Thursday, April 05, 2007

NC Senate and House propose apologies for slavery

Following the leads of Virginia and Maryland, Senate Majority Leader Tony Rand on Wednesday filed a bill apologizing for slavery. On Thursday, four members of the House, including our own Verla Insko, followed suit. From today's editorial in the Greensboro News-Record:

Some may contend these statements are empty gestures with no tangible actions or policies behind them. But there's still something to be said for a collective statement of conscience -- an official acknowledgment that this state, as an enduring institution, protected, preserved and profited from a practice that was morally indefensible.

The Senate resolution, introduced by Majority Leader Tony Rand, a Fayetteville Democrat, issues an "apology for the practice of slavery in North Carolina and expresses its profound contrition for the official acts that sanctioned and perpetuated the denial of basic human rights and dignity to fellow humans."

The House resolution uses similar language, formally apologizing "for the injustice, cruelty and brutality of slavery."

However, the House version goes one step further and mentions "the many hardships suffered, past and present, on account of slavery."

North Carolina was not a home to as many plantations as other slaveholding states, but as Rand's bill notes, fully one-third of the state's population, or 330,000 of its residents, were slaves at the time of the Civil War.

Significantly, both the House and Senate resolutions rightly reach beyond the abolition of slavery and cite the harsh and repressive segregationist practices in the decades that followed.

Both bills also specifically mention state laws that barred black people from learning to read or write and that denied black residents the right to vote.

It is true that, as the editorial further says, an apology alone "wouldn't improve race relations or provide new jobs." And it's also true that none of us was alive during those benighted times. But we all live with the consequences. To deny that, and to deny the need to continue to work for racial justice, is to take a pretty narrow view of history.

A couple of weeks ago, Rep. Thomas Wright of Wilmington and others filed a bill to implement the Wilmington 1898 Commission Report: "An act to implement recommendations of the 1898 Wilmington Race Riot Commission by establishing a commission to develop legislation for a restructuring and development authority, provide incentives for business development of areas impacted by the 1898 Wilmington race riot, and to increase minority home ownership in impacted areas."

These are constructive steps to deal honestly and straightforwardly with a racist past that, in the past, had been dealt with in ways that were neither.

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