The US House Apology for Slavery & Jim Crow: Open Thread for Comments

On a voice vote, late in the day on July 29, 2008, the U.S. House passed the historic resolution apologizing for slavery and Jim Crow, one sponsored by Rep. Steve Cohen, a Jewish American representing a majority-black Memphis congressional district. Some 42 members of the Congressional Black Caucus signed on as cosponsors, plus another 78 members of Congress (but only two Republicans). Cohen made this comment: “I hope that this is part of the beginning of a dialogue that this country needs to engage in, concerning what the effects of slavery and Jim Crow have been, I think we started it and we’re going to continue.”

Here is the apology resolution. What do you make of all this? Please add your comments below.

“Apologizing for the enslavement and racial segregation of African-Americans.

Whereas millions of Africans and their descendants were enslaved in the United States and the 13 American colonies from 1619 through 1865;

Whereas slavery in America resembled no other form of involuntary servitude known in history, as Africans were captured and sold at auction like inanimate objects or animals;

Whereas Africans forced into slavery were brutalized, humiliated, dehumanized, and subjected to the indignity of being stripped of their names and heritage;

Whereas enslaved families were torn apart after having been sold separately from one another;

Whereas the system of slavery and the visceral racism against persons of African descent upon which it depended became entrenched in the Nation’s social fabric;

Whereas slavery was not officially abolished until the passage of the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1865 after the end of the Civil War, which was fought over the slavery issue;

Whereas after emancipation from 246 years of slavery, African-Americans soon 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;

Whereas the system of de jure racial segregation known as `Jim Crow,’ which arose in certain parts of the Nation following the Civil War to create separate and unequal societies for whites and African-Americans, was a direct result of the racism against persons of African descent engendered by slavery;

Whereas the system of Jim Crow laws officially existed into the 1960’s–a century after the official end of slavery in America–until Congress took action to end it, but the vestiges of Jim Crow continue to this day;

Whereas African-Americans continue to suffer from the consequences of slavery and Jim Crow–long after both systems were formally abolished–through enormous damage and loss, both tangible and intangible, including the loss of human dignity and liberty, the frustration of careers and professional lives, and the long-term loss of income and opportunity;

Whereas the story of the enslavement and de jure segregation of African-Americans and the dehumanizing atrocities committed against them should not be purged from or minimized in the telling of American history;

Whereas on July 8, 2003, during a trip to Goree Island, Senegal, a former slave port, President George W. Bush acknowledged slavery’s continuing legacy in American life and the need to confront that legacy when he stated that slavery `was . . . one of the greatest crimes of history . . . 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. But however long the journey, our destiny is set: liberty and justice for all.’;

Whereas President Bill Clinton also acknowledged the deep-seated problems caused by the continuing legacy of racism against African-Americans that began with slavery when he initiated a national dialogue about race;

Whereas a genuine apology is an important and necessary first step in the process of racial reconciliation;

Whereas an apology for centuries of brutal dehumanization and injustices cannot erase the past, but confession of the wrongs committed can speed racial healing and reconciliation and help Americans confront the ghosts of their past;

Whereas the legislature of the Commonwealth of Virginia has recently taken the lead in adopting a resolution officially expressing appropriate remorse for slavery and other State legislatures are considering similar resolutions; and

Whereas it is important for this country, which legally recognized slavery through its Constitution and its laws, to make a formal apology for slavery and for its successor, Jim Crow, so that it can move forward and seek reconciliation, justice, and harmony for all of its citizens: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That the House of Representatives–

(1) acknowledges the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery and Jim Crow;

(2) 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 and Jim Crow; and

(3) expresses its commitment to rectify the lingering consequences of the misdeeds committed against African-Americans under slavery and Jim Crow and to stop the occurrence of human rights violations in the future.”


  1. Long overdue. But, not if you’re Glenn Beck. I made the mistake of watching his diatribe against the resolution. He claimed the House was wasting its time. Funny, I don’t hear Beck complain when the House passes literally hundreds of resolutions every solution congratulating the championship team of this and that sport.

    Beck’s reaction is symptomatic of a culture that never wants to admit wrongdoing.

  2. GDAWG

    Nice start. Largely symbolic. But nothing less than an act similar to the one the interned Japanese Americans received in 1988 called the ” Civil Liberties Act of 1988,” will do. Check that out for reference.

  3. I’m curious to see how the Senate responds to this symbolic resolution, if at all.

    And what does this mean for future Congressional dialogs? Does this crack the door for future reparations talks?

    At this point, I have high hopes but low expectations.

    – k

  4. GDAWG

    If he can justify the apology and reparation treatments rendered to the previously interned Japanese Americans and their descendants, in addition to the reparations and apology paid to native Hawiians, and the lands returned toNative Americans, as just as more important in the demands of Black Americans andtheir concerns and redress, for being just as damamge if not more so, he’s a typical polticain ala Rangel,.not Powell, and too many others. I’ll stop here….

  5. Lish

    The apology is just a pretty icing on a bad cake. They are apologizing for something THAT SHOULDNT HAVE HAPPENED!

    How is this apology going to correct the wrongs such as poor educational funding for “urban” neighborhoods, or job discrimination?

  6. Joe Author

    Good discussion. The apology is one small step, but an important one. Symbolism is part of oppression, and part of undoing it.
    But you are all right, that it is but one step. More must come to make it meaningful.

  7. Muriel Minnie Mae

    It’s a start but I wonder who’s going to hear it.

    Will Congresspersons be reading this apology from platforms when they get home for anyone who wants to hear it/see a Congressperson apologize can? Or will it be a piece of paper in the House collecting dust?

  8. will

    An apology is a good start for any illegal and misdeed perpetrated by a group of thieves, rapists, murders, and hate mongers. That hides under the cloak of darkness and the title of the United States of America. Now, all is left to do is to show me the money. Better yet, give me the MONEY!!!

  9. jwbe

    >Will…it’s because of individuals like you that have this greedy “gimme gimme” tone which puts people off from considering reparations. Sad.
    this is the cheapest excuse for not supporting reparations I guess

  10. siss

    Cheapest? Hardly. Americans are greedy. Look how our country is in ruins, financially speaking. All because they were trying to make a buck. Wills answer would have been better taken if he had suggested REALISTIC reparation ideas like school and community re-investment, etc. Rather, from the tone in his comment, [“Better yet, give me the MONEY!!!”] he is just looking for a hand-out.

  11. jwbe

    Siss you should ask the question who is so greedy as a group. Who created American style capitalism etc.
    Reparations isn’t about a hand-out even if you want to see it that way and whites will always find excuses why they want to benefit from the wealth created by exploiting others but don’t want to be fully responsible by giving back what is not theirs

  12. siss

    Like I previously stated, it was the tone of that comment that I objected to, not the idea that reparations need to be used. They NEED TO BE enacted to make up for the past horrors but he implied that the US goverment should just “pay up – in cash”. Which is absurd.


  1. On the Present-Day “Apology” for Slavery - JVoices: your jewish wakeup call

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