Thursday, July 17, 2003

Apology for the Legacy of Slavery

Apology: an expression of regret for an offense or fault.

On May 17th 2000, the mayor of the America’s third largest city, Chicago, made a public apology to the Black Americans in his city for slavery.

After tiptoeing around the issue for weeks, Mayor Richard Daley on Wednesday came out squarely in favor of reparations for the descendants of African slaves and asserted it is only right for America to say it is sorry for what it did. "You apologize for a wrong," Daley declared. "Slavery was wrong. ... Slavery has had an enormous effect on generation after generation." The mayor's comments came as the City Council voted overwhelmingly to urge Congress to consider reparations. - Chicago Tribune, May 17, 2000, Chicago Illinois

Chicago is just the latest city in a growing list of cities across the nation that has joined the cry for Congress to address the issue of an apology and reparations (the question of reparations will be addressed next month in another article), for slavery. Most White Americans—and quite a few non-white American’s, chief among them, Native Americans—have opposed the call for an apology, asserting that it was not they who were responsible for slavery. Or they assert their forefathers were immigrants, or migrant workers, or indentured servants, and therefore not responsible for slavery and all of it well documented ills.

Let’s leave aside for a moment those individual arguments and address the larger issue: should the United States Government apology for slavery? I say no, not for slavery alone. It should instead apologize for the legacy that slavery left in its wake; a legacy I hasten to point out that the U.S. government helped endow, and fed through its own well documented institutionalized brand of discrimination, bigotry, and racism. It is the legacy of slavery that has haunted every Black American—man, woman, and child—for the last 135 years, and the haunting continues to this day!

All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws-14th Amendment to The Constitution of the United States of America, ratified July 9th 1868.

Citizens yes, equal under the law; in theory yes, but in reality, NO. For some 100 years after the end of slavery, the federal government was a co-equal partner in the systematic denial of Black American’s equal treatment under the law. There has been case after case, after case in which Black Americans were humiliated before the eyes of the world, denied, disrespected, set upon. And they were murdered by gun and rope, raped, blown up, and treated like second class citizens under the watchful eye of all three branches of the federal government. A federal government, which gave its support to this vile treatment by either doing nothing to stop it, or acted in concert with those who would seek to promote and champion racism and discrimination.

This against the backdrop of The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution, the very words of which speak like no other document, before or since, to the human need to be free of the shackles of oppression, tyranny, and injustice! I have often wondered how forward thinking classically, or liberally educated persons who claim the word of God as their own, can come to terms in their minds, hearts, and souls with the very obvious contradictions and ethical, moral, and spiritual dilemma’s this paradox creates.

If, and I say again, if the federal government had upheld the Constitution and believed in the spirit and the letter of the Declaration of Independence and in so doing vigorously enforced the law from the outset (end of the Civil War), how different today would America be?

Would Jim Crow laws have been enacted and enforced in the south for close to 100 years? Would the KKK have ever become the force for evil, hatred, intolerance, and bigotry it became? Would Black family’s be torn asunder and Black children—especially Black boys—feel hopeless and rudderless, finding no cause in America to call their own? Would the American dream remain but a dream for so many disenfranchised Black Americans? Would the Black Panthers ever have been born? Would the race riots of the sixties have ever flared? Would Martin Luther King Jr. and countless other Blacks and Whites have lost their lives in a struggle to bring equality to a people who should have already been enjoying its fruits? Would the deep biting pain of school desegregation and forced busing have been necessary to enrich young Black minds that heretofore had gone undernourished by the blatant indifference of the many states? Would the Voting Rights Act or Civil Rights Act have been necessary? Would affirmative action and the entire ugly debate it invites have been necessary in our nation’s corporations and schools of higher learning? Would we today be talking of reparations and apology’s if the federal government had lived up to it obligation and responsibility’s to uphold the law fairly and equally for all its citizens? And in so doing binding the many States to their collective and individual obligations and responsibility’s to do the same? I think the answer to all of those questions is a resounding NO!

Apologize for slavery in and of itself, NO, because the federal government, indeed the country was not even in existence when slavery was introduced to the thirteen colonies. Apologize for allowing slavery’s legacy, a legacy born of hatred, racism, and intolerance, which it helped, foster, YES! An apology for that and the incalculable pain and emotional scaring it caused is in order and dually demanded! A nation of the people, by the people and for the people, should not tolerate the continued subjugation and unequal treatment of ANY of the people!

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