Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Federal Apology For Slavery

Hard to believe it's taken nearly 146 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, but it appears that the House of Representatives is on the cusp of issuing an apology for slavery.. While multiple states have issued formal apologies over the years, this would mark the first such acknowledgement at the federal level. Here is a link to the full text of H.Res. 194.
I don't want to waste too much energy blathering about a 146 year delay for what would seem to have been both easy and politically expedious to accomplish many years ago. We should take satisfaction in the fact that current opinion would provide fertile ground for this action to take root, and based upon the resolutions' wording, this is a comprehensive apology. Not only is slavery's destructiveness addressed, but so too is Jim Crow and the racism that underscored both tragedies.
This resolution from the House is the sort of thing that can be built upon, and like the document states, "a genuine apology is an important and necessary first step in the process of racial reconciliation."
By acknowledging shameful parts of our past at the highest levels, we can stop arguing over them and start moving beyond. When the federal government formally recognizes the "injustice, cruelty, brutality and inhumanity of slavery and Jim Crow", it removes the backbone from many a Lost Cause historian and Confederate apologists' argument about slavery being a benign institution. Moreover, in stating that slavery "should not be purged from or minimized in the telling of American history" it gives satisfaction and relevance to the current batch of historians whose work is designed to help us recognize and learn from our past as it actually happened. Lastly, it gives relevance to a particularly sore spot for a large component of the American melting pot.
We can only heal when we can understand the unfortunate parts of our history, we can only move forward together when we start from the same place. Hopefully there can be significant further discussion built from this action; a national museum explaining slavery in America being a great place to start. Regardless, this far-reaching document is a milestone from which we can all take some measure of motivation.

1 comment:

Christopher Bates said...


First of all, great blog!

Second, Brent Boyd sent me the link, and I thought I'd check in with you. How's life? Are you a doctor now? IF you want, you can shoot me an email at jrhtp@ucla.edu.