Apology lite: Truths, doubts, and reconciliations in the Senate’s guarded apology for slavery
Nov 25, 2009
The United States Senate formally apologized for slavery on June 18, 2009. This followed an apology made nearly a year earlier, on July 29, 2008, by the House of Representatives. Unlike the House apology, the Senate apology contains additional limiting language, specifically stating that it cannot be used as a ground for monetary compensation. The apology is nearly nine hundred words, with a preamble which goes into some detail about the wrongness of slavery, admitting that slaves were “brutalized, humiliated, [and] dehumanized.” It then states:
(1) APOLOGY FOR THE ENSLAVEMENT AND SEGREGATION OF AFRICAN-AMERICANS.—The Congress . . . 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 laws . . . .
(2) DISCLAIMER.—Nothing in this resolution—
(A) authorizes or supports any claim against the United States; or
(B) serves as a settlement of any claim against the United States.
....The Senate should follow the apology with bold symbolic gestures that show its seriousness and sincerity. Roy Brooks has suggested building a national slavery museum as one such gesture. A semiprivate museum was started but has stalled. The Senate should take charge of funding and completing this museum, creating a focal point to raise consciousness about slavery and tell slaves’ stories. At the same time, the Senate should make Juneteenth into a new national holiday, which will further reinforce and annually renew the discussions generated by the apology.
Senate action to fund a serious national museum on slavery and to formally commemorate Juneteenth would help show the sincerity of the apology. These measures would not satisfy all activists, but they would imbue the Senate’s apology with more than mere words. The apology would then more effectively further the restorative justice goals of reparations, and would serve as a helpful model for the future.