To watch the video, please click HERE.
The U.S. House of Representatives today passed a historic resolution apologizing to African-Americans for slavery and segregation.
The nonbinding resolution, introduced by Rep. Steve Cohen, marks the first time a branch of the federal government has apologized for slavery.
Cohen is a white member of Congress who represents a majority black district in Memphis, Tennessee. He is facing a re-election challenge next week from a young black female lawyer, Nikki Tinker, and earlier this year he abandoned his effort to join the Congressional Black Caucus after some colleagues objected, according to The Guardian.
The resolution, which passed on a voice vote Tuesday evening, does not discuss reparations, which would provide financial compensation to descendants of slaves. It does express a “commitment to rectify the lingering consequences of the misdeeds committed against African-Americans under slavery and Jim Crow.”
The text of the resolution “acknowledges the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery and Jim Crow” and specifically “apologizes to African-Americans on behalf of the people of the United States, for the wrongs committed against them and their ancestors who suffered under slavery and Jim Crow.”
And the resolution also seems to acknowledge its own limitations, explaining that “an apology for centuries of brutal dehumanization and injustices cannot erase the past, but confession of the wrongs committed can speed racial healing and reconciliation and help Americans confront the ghosts of their past.”
“Today represents a milestone in our nation’s efforts to remedy the ills of our past,” Rep. Carolyn C. Kilpatrick, chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said in a statement. “I applaud Representative Steve Cohen (D-TN) and all the co-sponsors of H.Res. 194. We must now continue our efforts to free African Americans from the shackles of inferior education, inadequate health care, and lack of jobs.”
Apologies Have Been Offered Before
On the presidential campaign, Senator John McCain said last October that he would support a federal apology for slavery, although some critics note that he failed to support the bill when it was discussed in February of this year.
For his part, Senator Barack Obama has said he has little interest in an official government apology for slavery or reparations for descendants of slaves, according to the Associated Press.
Asked if he would support reparations for Native Americans, Senator Obama said last week that “the more important thing for the U.S. government to do is not just offer words, but offer deeds.” Although he reportedly noted that by “every socio-economic indicator Native Americans are doing worse” than other Americans, he said he was “more concerned about delivering a better life,” according to a report on BlackAmericaWeb.com.
Obama added. “The best reparations we can provide are good schools in the inner city and jobs for people that are unemployed,” Obama told an audience at the Unity convention in Chicago.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution apologizing to Native Americans, and in 1988, Congress passed and President Reagan signed a law apologizing to Japanese-Americans who were held in detention camps during World War II. The 60,000 detainees who were alive at the time each received $20,000 from the government, according to CNN.
Resolution Apologizing For Slavery and Segregation
The full text of the slavery measure, House Resolution 194, is as follows:
Mr. COHEN (for himself, Mr. JOHNSON of Georgia, Ms. JACKSON-LEE of Texas, Mr. BRADY of Pennsylvania, Mr. WEXLER, Ms. KILPATRICK, Ms. WOOLSEY, Mr. PALLONE, Ms. LEE, Mr. MCGOVERN, Ms. SCHAKOWSKY, Mrs. MALONEY of New York, Mr. CONYERS, Mr. MORAN of Virginia, Mr. CAPUANO, Mr. RANGEL, Mr. PAYNE, Mr. JEFFERSON, Mr. ELLISON, Mr. AL GREEN of Texas, Mr. BUTTERFIELD, Ms. WATSON, Mr. HINCHEY, Mr. CLEAVER, Ms. CARSON, Mr. ISRAEL, Mr. ACKERMAN, Mr. DAVIS of Alabama, Mr. LEWIS of Georgia, Mr. ABERCROMBIE, Mr. HARE, Mr. KENNEDY, Ms. BALDWIN, Mr. HODES, Mr. FILNER, Mr. HONDA, and Mr. KUCINICH) submitted the following resolution; which was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary
Apologizing for the enslavement and racial segregation of African-Americans.
Whereas millions of Africans and their descendants were enslaved in the United States and the 13 American colonies from 1619 through 1865;
Whereas slavery in America resembled no other form of involuntary servitude known in history, as Africans were captured and sold at auction like inanimate objects or animals;
Whereas Africans forced into slavery were brutalized, humiliated, dehumanized, and subjected to the indignity of being stripped of their names and heritage;
Whereas enslaved families were torn apart after having been sold separately from one another;
Whereas the system of slavery and the visceral racism against persons of African descent upon which it depended became entrenched in the Nation’s social fabric;
Whereas slavery was not officially abolished until the passage of the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1865 after the end of the Civil War, which was fought over the slavery issue;
Whereas after emancipation from 246 years of slavery , African-Americans soon saw the fleeting political, social, and economic gains they made during Reconstruction eviscerated by virulent racism, lynchings, disenfranchisement, Black Codes, and racial segregation laws that imposed a rigid system of officially sanctioned racial segregation in virtually all areas of life;
Whereas the system of de jure racial segregation known as `Jim Crow,’ which arose in certain parts of the Nation following the Civil War to create separate and unequal societies for whites and African-Americans, was a direct result of the racism against persons of African descent engendered by slavery ;
Whereas the system of Jim Crow laws officially existed into the 1960’s–a century after the official end of slavery in America–until Congress took action to end it, but the vestiges of Jim Crow continue to this day;
Whereas African-Americans continue to suffer from the consequences of slavery and Jim Crow–long after both systems were formally abolished–through enormous damage and loss, both tangible and intangible, including the loss of human dignity and liberty, the frustration of careers and professional lives, and the long-term loss of income and opportunity;
Whereas the story of the enslavement and de jure segregation of African-Americans and the dehumanizing atrocities committed against them should not be purged from or minimized in the telling of American history;
Whereas on July 8, 2003, during a trip to Goree Island, Senegal, a former slave port, President George W. Bush acknowledged slavery’s continuing legacy in American life and the need to confront that legacy when he stated that slavery `was . . . one of the greatest crimes of history . . . The racial bigotry fed by slavery did not end with slavery or with segregation. And many of the issues that still trouble America have roots in the bitter experience of other times. But however long the journey, our destiny is set: liberty and justice for all.’;
Whereas President Bill Clinton also acknowledged the deep-seated problems caused by the continuing legacy of racism against African-Americans that began with slavery when he initiated a national dialogue about race;
Whereas a genuine apology is an important and necessary first step in the process of racial reconciliation;
Whereas an apology for centuries of brutal dehumanization and injustices cannot erase the past, but confession of the wrongs committed can speed racial healing and reconciliation and help Americans confront the ghosts of their past;
Whereas the legislature of the Commonwealth of Virginia has recently taken the lead in adopting a resolution officially expressing appropriate remorse for slavery and other State legislatures are considering similar resolutions; and
Whereas it is important for this country, which legally recognized slavery through its Constitution and its laws, to make a formal apology for slavery and for its successor, Jim Crow, so that it can move forward and seek reconciliation, justice, and harmony for all of its citizens: Now, therefore, be it
Resolved, That the House of Representatives–
(1) acknowledges the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery and Jim Crow;
(2) apologizes to African-Americans on behalf of the people of the United States, for the wrongs committed against them and their ancestors who suffered under slavery and Jim Crow; and
(3) expresses its commitment to rectify the lingering consequences of the misdeeds committed against African-Americans under slavery and Jim Crow and to stop the occurrence of human rights violations in the future.