Earl Ofari Hutchinson: Virginia Apologizes For Slavery, Now It’s Congress' Turn

Roundup: Talking About History

[Earl Ofari Hutchinson is a political analyst and social issues commentator, and the author of the book, The Emerging Black GOP Majority (Middle Passage Press, September 2006), a hard-hitting look at Bush and the GOP's court of black voters.]

When Ohio Congressman Tony Hall introduced two resolutions in 1997 and 2000 asking Congress to officially apologize for slavery, he was blasted from pillar to post. Irate whites called the resolution wasteful and racist. Many blacks ridiculed it as much too little and much too late. But the slavery issue refused to go away. Virginia is the latest to deal with it when both houses unanimously passed a resolution apologizing for slavery. The resolution was mild, innocuous, and ultimately toothless, but at least it acknowledged the monstrous wrong of slavery.

Now Congress should follow Virginia's lead and apologize for slavery. And it's not just a matter of doing the morally right thing. The U.S. government not just a handful of evil Southern planters encoded slavery in the Constitution, and protected and nourished it for a century. Traders, insurance companies, bankers, shippers, and landowners, made billions off of it. Their ill-gotten profits fueled America's industrial and agricultural might. For decades after slavery's end, white trade unions excluded blacks and confined them to the dirtiest, poorest paying jobs....

The state legislature in Florida in 1994 agreed to make payments to the survivors and relatives of those who lost their lives and property when a white mob destroyed the all-black town of Rosewood in 1923. This was a specific act of mob carnage that was tacitly condoned by some public officials and law enforcement officers. Florida was liable for the violence and was duty bound to apologize and pay. The Oklahoma state legislature has agreed at least in principle that reparations and apology should be made to the survivors of the dozens of blacks killed, and the hundreds more that had their homes and businesses destroyed by white mobs with the complicity of law enforcement in the Tulsa massacre of 1921. There's even a bill by Michigan Congressman John Conyers that has kicked around Congress since 1989 would establish a commission to study the impact of slavery and the feasibility of paying reparations to blacks.

The ugly truth is that a mainstay of America's continuing racial divide is its harsh and continuing mistreatment of poor blacks. This can be directly traced to the persistent and pernicious legacy of slavery. Virginia took a light stab at confronting the state's hideous racial past. Congress should do even better by apologizing for slavery, and putting teeth behind the apology by passing the Conyers bill....
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