My Beautiful Wickedness

Alabama’s Apology
May 29, 2007, 12:28 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Edited to add: I dug through my archives and realize that I have said something similar to this before— thanks to Gerald for reminding me that NC got there first and did a little bit better job of it. Of course, linking to myself indicates a) that I’m a weenie and b) that I’m a redundant thinker. I prefer to think of it as working out some overarching intellectual agenda. That’s probably the same thing.

Anywho, back to the Alabama apology…

The full text of it makes for interesting reading, as there’s a textual tug-of-war between the “don’t blame me and you damn sure can’t sue me” folks and the “open your damn eyes, cracker” contingent.

Does this qualify as “acknowledgment”? Or is the next step — atonement — what is required? I actually got into a long discussion with Jim Horton and David Blight about this very thing. David and I — the white lefties — were cynical about the efficacy of these ceremonial declarations. Horton — the old civil rights man, Chicago neighbor of Emmitt Till — urged us not to dismiss this as nothing. His position was that it was a step, and that every walk has to be made of steps, and that there were a lot of people who lived and died waiting for a whisper of apology. To him, it was dismissive of their struggle and their memories to reject what they waited all their lives to hear as so much political sideshow. Maybe he’s right. My early memories are of a world in which this sort of resolution would have been manifestly impossible…and yet, forty years on, here it is.

The complete text of the slavery apology resolution approved by the Alabama Legislature on Thursday, May 25th, 2007:

WHEREAS, slavery has been documented as a worldwide practice since antiquity, dating back to 3500 B.C. in ancient Mesopotamia; and

WHEREAS, during the course of the infamous Atlantic Slave Trade, millions of Africans became involuntary immigrants to the New World, and millions more died during passage; the first African slaves in the North American colonies were brought to Jamestown, in 1619; and

WHEREAS, the Atlantic Slave Trade was a lucrative enterprise, and African slaves, a prized commodity to support the economic base of plantations in the colonies, were traded for tropical products, manufactured goods, sugar, molasses, and other merchandise; and

WHEREAS, some African captives resisted enslavement by fleeing from slave forts on the West African coast and others mutinied aboard slave trading vessels, cast themselves into the Atlantic Ocean, or risked the cruel retaliation of their masters by running away to seek freedom; and

WHEREAS, although the United States outlawed the transatlantic slave trade in 1808, the domestic slave trade in the colonies and illegal importation continued for several decades; and

WHEREAS, slavery, or the “Peculiar Institution,” in the United States resembled no other form of involuntary servitude, as Africans were captured and sold at auction as chattel, like inanimate property or animals; and

WHEREAS, to prime Africans for slavery, the fundamental values of the Africans were shattered, they were brutalized, humiliated, dehumanized, and subjected to the indignity of being stripped of their names and heritage, women and girls were raped, and families were disassembled as husbands and wives, mothers and daughters, and fathers and sons were sold into slavery apart from one another; and

WHEREAS, a series of complex colonial laws were enacted to relegate the status of Africans and their descendants to slavery, in spite of their loyalty, dedication, and service to the country, including heroic and distinguished service in the Civil War; and

WHEREAS, the system of slavery had become entrenched in American history and the social fabric, and the issue of enslaved Africans had to be addressed as a national issue, contributing to the Civil War from 1861 to 1865 and the passage of the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which abolished slavery and involuntary servitude on December 18, 1865; and

WHEREAS, after emancipation from 246 years of slavery, African-Americans soon saw the political, social, and economic gains they made during Reconstruction dissipated by virulent and rabid racism, lynchings, disenfranchisement of African-American voters, Black Codes designed to reimpose the subordination of African-Americans, and Jim Crow laws that instituted a rigid system of de jure segregation in virtually all areas of life and that lasted until the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act; and

WHEREAS, throughout their existence in America and even in the decades after the Civil Rights Movement, African-Americans have found the struggle to overcome the bitter legacy of slavery long and arduous, and for many African-Americans the scars left behind are unbearable, haunting their psyches and clouding their vision of the future and of America’s many attributes; and

WHEREAS, acknowledgment of the crimes and persecution visited upon other peoples during World War II is embraced lest the world forget, yet the very mention of the broken promise of “40 acres and a mule” to former slaves or of the existence of racism today evokes denial from many quarters of any responsibility for the centuries of legally sanctioned deprivation of African-Americans of their endowed rights or for contemporary policies that perpetuate the status quo; and

WHEREAS, in 2003, during a trip to Goree Island, Senegal, a former slave port, President George W. Bush stated, “At this place, liberty and life were stolen and sold. Human beings were delivered and sorted, and weighed, and branded with the marks of commercial enterprises, and loaded as cargo on a voyage without return. One of the largest migrations of history was also one of the greatest crimes of history … Small men took on the powers and airs of tyrants and masters. Years of unpunished brutality and bullying and rape produced a dullness and hardness of conscience. Christian men and women became blind to the clearest commands of their faith and added hypocrisy to injustice … For 250 years the captives endured an assault on their culture and their dignity … While physical slavery is dead, the legacy is alive. My nation’s journey toward justice has not been easy, and it is not over. The racial bigotry fed by slavery did not end with slavery or with segregation … and many of the issues that still trouble America have roots in the bitter experience of other times … We can finally judge the past by the standards of President John Adams, who called slavery ‘an evil of colossal magnitude’ … “; and

WHEREAS, in Alabama, the vestiges of slavery are ever before African-American citizens, from the overt racism of hate groups to the subtle racism encountered when requesting health care, transacting business, buying a home, seeking quality public education and college admission, and enduring pretextual traffic stops and other indignities; and

WHEREAS, European and African nations have apologized for their roles in what history calls the worst holocaust of humankind, the Atlantic Slave Trade, and racial reconciliation is impossible without some acknowledgment of the moral and legal injustices perpetrated upon African-Americans; and

WHEREAS, 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; and

WHEREAS, the story of the enslavement of Africans and their descendants, the human carnage, and the dehumanizing atrocities committed during slavery should not be purged from Alabama’s history or discounted; moreover, the faith, perseverance, hope, and endless triumphs of African-Americans and their significant contributions to the development of this state and the nation should be embraced, celebrated, and retold for generations to come; and

WHEREAS, the perpetual pain, distrust, and bitterness of many African-Americans could be assuaged and the principles espoused by the Founding Fathers would be affirmed, and great strides toward unifying all Alabamians and inspiring the nation to acquiesce might be accomplished, if on the eve of the commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the first permanent English settlement in the New World, the state acknowledged and atoned for its pivotal role in the slavery of Africans; and

WHEREAS, acknowledging that there is a difference between what is wrong and right, and that slavery as an American “Institution” was a wrong committed upon millions of Black Americans and that their ancestors are the beneficiaries of such wrongs, including, but not limited to, segregation under Jim Crow, housing discrimination, discrimination in education, and other ills inflicted upon Black people; and

WHEREAS, the State of Alabama, the Governor, and its citizens are conscious that under slavery many atrocities and gross violations of human rights were imposed upon Black people, and that acknowledging these facts can and will avert future tragedies, be they in the Sudan, or other parts of the world; and

WHEREAS, the State of Alabama has a long history of civil rights involvement and is on the cutting edge of effective measures to promote racial tolerance, such as the Birmingham Pledge; now therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF ALABAMA, BOTH HOUSES THEREOF CONCURRING, That we express our profound regret for the State of Alabama’s role in slavery and that we apologize for the wrongs inflicted by slavery and its after effects in the United States of America; we express our deepest sympathies and solemn regrets to those who were enslaved and the descendants of slaves, who were deprived of life, human dignity, and the constitutional protections accorded all citizens of the United States; and we encourage the remembrance and teaching about the history of slavery, Jim Crow laws, and modern day slavery, to ensure that these tragedies will neither be forgotten nor repeated.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That it is the intent of the Legislature that this resolution shall not be used in, or be the basis of, any type of litigation.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That this resolution shall be known and referred to as the “Moore-Sanders Apology for Slavery Act.”

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That a copy of this resolution be transmitted to each state elected official; the Executive Director of the Alabama Commission on Higher Education; the Executive Director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Alabama Chapter; and the Executive Director of The Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Alabama Chapter; requesting that they further disseminate copies of this resolution to their respective constituents so that they may be apprised of the sense of the Alabama Legislature in this matter.


4 Comments so far
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Reading this, I actually feel rather more proud of the NC apology passed in April. It didn’t include a “no litigation” clause and It also didn’t see fit to invoke Dubya, but then the Democrats are in control of the legislature here.

After it passed, our good friends at freerepublic took time out from persecuting the Dixie Chicks to say that the NC Black Caucus should apologize on behalf of the Africans who participated in the slave trade. Seeing as that the African-American legislators in NC are most likely descended from the African victims of the slave trade rather than the African collaborators in it, I’m not sure I followed the logic…

Actually, the closer I read the two documents the more weaselly the Alabama text looks. The NC text declares the General Assembly’s “contrition” over slavery. That is an apology. Expressing “regret” just means your sorry it happened, not necessarily that you are taking responsibility for it.

Here is a link to the NC text, if anyone is interested:

Comment by Gerald

Anything to smack the arrogance off the entrenched power structure, I’m for.

Comment by Nick Dupree

I’m really caught on this one, and have been since this whole thing started. On the one hand, this is pure political song-and-dance for most involved. On the other hand, many of the sponsors of these bills seem to be honest in their belief that an apology will help. The best I can come up with is that it is better to make the gesture than not, and that only the person being apologized to can decide what the apology means.

Comment by Gerald

I’m in Alabama, and have met Senator Hank Sanders, Democrat from Selma (who’s sponsoring this bill). He is a black preacher, and a wonderful orator. He is of the same cloth as MLK.

Comment by Nick Dupree

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