Category: Repair and reparations Tags: Apologies, Georgia, Legislation, Racial discrimination, slavery
The last time we provided an update here on the effort to have U.S. states to apologize for their role in slavery and racism, we reported that the Tennessee House of Representatives had voted overwhelmingly to approve a resolution which would have expressed “profound regret” for the state’s part in slavery and segregation. This was back last spring, and despite the fact that the state legislature’s lower chamber had softened the resolution’s language, which originally would have offered “profound apologies,” the state senate ignored the resolution. As a result, the proposal will expire next week, when the Tennessee General Assembly convenes for another term.
However, in the new year, there is another active effort to have a state apologize for slavery, this time in Georgia. We first reported about this on social media last month, when Georgia state representative Tyrone Brooks (D-Atlanta) announced that in January, at the start of the legislative session, he would press for an apology for the state’s role in slavery and Jim Crow.
Brooks’ resolution, which is designated H.R. 3 and which can be found here, would have Georgia’s General Assembly express its “profound regret” for the state’s role in slavery, “atone” for that history, and call for “reconciliation among all Georgians.”
The resolution’s preamble acknowledges that slavery has been practiced throughout human history, but notes the enormous magnitude of the transatlantic slave trade and the astonishing brutality of chattel slavery in the United States. The preamble also discusses the destructive effects of the Jim Crow era and the “unbearable” legacy of this history for African Americans alive today.
As with Tennessee’s failed slavery apology last year, the Georgia resolution uses the language of “regret” rather than “apology.” Following the model of previous state apologies, successful and unsuccessful, in the North and South, the resolution also expressly says that it cannot be used as a basis for lawsuits (meaning, obviously, for reparations for slavery).
However, the proposed Georgia apology also addresses the subject of slavery reparations directly, evoking the “broken promise of ’40 acres and a mule'” and arguing that one purpose of the apology is to combat the widespread denial among Americans of “any responsibility” for the history of slavery or for policies which perpetuate the legacy of this history today.
In a critical passage, the resolution states that:
an apology for centuries of brutal dehumanization and injustices cannot erase the past, but confession of the wrongs can speed racial healing and reconciliation and help African-American and white citizens confront the ghosts of their collective pasts together.
The largest wave of state apologies for slavery to date occurred between 2007 and 2009, when eight U.S. states voted to apologize, or to express remorse, for their roles in slavery. These states included six of the so-called “slave states” (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia), and two northern states, Connecticut and New Jersey, both of which, like the other northern “free states,” in fact had long and painful histories of slavery themselves.
There were also failed apology attempts during these years, and in fact, Rep. Brooks tried for an apology in Georgia in 2007, but found very little support at that time.