Resolution Passed in Senate Apologizing for Slavery

The NAACP applauded the United States Senate for its passage on Thursday June 18 of a historic resolution apologizing for the enslavement and racial segregation of African-Americans.

The resolution came during the celebration known as Juneteenth, the nation’s oldest commemoration of the end of slavery. Sens. Tom Harkin (D-IA), and Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), sponsored the bill; Congressman Cohen will sponsor the bill in the House, which is expected to be debated soon.

“The apology for slavery and the era of Jim Crow segregation is long overdue and is the first step toward healing the wounds of African-American men and women throughout this country,” stated NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous.

After making detailed findings regarding slavery and era of legalized segregation known as “Jim Crow,” the resolution read that the Congress “acknowledges the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality and inhumanity of slavery and Jim Crow laws and 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.”

The unanimous vote by the upper chamber of Congress comes a year after the U.S. House of Representatives apologized for slavery.

The resolution admits that Africans were “forced into slavery” where they were “brutalized, humiliated, dehumanized, and subjected to the indignity of being stripped of their names and heritage.” And it acknowledges that many enslaved families were “torn apart after family members were sold separately.”

Although the resolution decries the “visceral racism against people of African descent” that became “enmeshed in the social fabric of the United States,” the nonbinding measure does not authorize reparations for descendants of African American slaves.

The resolution specifically admits that descendants of African American slaves “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.”

Further, the Senate resolution acknowledges that these Jim Crow laws “officially existed until the 1960s—a century after the official end of slavery in the United States.”

Slavery was abolished in the U.S. with the ratification of the 13th amendment to the Constitution in 1865. During the Civil War, President Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation abolishing slavery in states that were in rebellion against the federal government, but that order had little immediate effect on the vast majority of slaves, who were held in Confederate states at war with the U.S.

“An apology for centuries of brutal dehumanization and injustices cannot erase the past, but confession of the wrongs committed and a formal apology to African- Americans will help bind the wounds of the Nation that are rooted in slavery and can speed racial healing and reconciliation and help the people of the United States understand the past and honor the history of all people of the United States,” the resolution states.

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