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Tue, 07.29.2008

The U.S. Congress Apologizes For American Slavery

Stonetown (Slave tsatues)
Zanzibar, East Africa

*On this date in 2008, The House of Representatives passed a resolution apologizing to African Americans for slavery and the era of Jim Crow.

Rep. Steve Cohen, a Jewish lawmaker representing a majority Black district in Memphis, Tennessee, introduced the nonbinding resolution, passing on a voice vote. While many states have apologized for slavery, it is the first time a branch of the federal government has done so, an aide to Cohen said.

In passing the resolution, the House also acknowledged the "injustice, cruelty, brutality and inhumanity of slavery and Jim Crow."  Jim Crow laws were state and local laws enacted mostly in the Southern and border states of the United States between the 1870s and 1965, when African Americans were denied the right to vote and other civil liberties and were legally segregated from whites.

"Jim Crow" came from a character played by T.D. "Daddy" Rice portrayed a slave while in blackface during the mid-1800s. The resolution states that "the vestiges of Jim Crow continue to this day." "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," the resolution states. The House also committed itself to stop "the occurrence of human rights violations in the future."

The resolution did not address the issue of reparations. Some African American community members have called on lawmakers to give cash payments or other financial benefits to descendants of slaves as compensation for the suffering caused by slavery. It is not the first time lawmakers have apologized to an ethnic group for injustices.

In April, the Senate passed a resolution sponsored by Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kansas, that apologized to Native Americans for "the many instances of violence, maltreatment, and neglect." In 1993 the Senate also passed a resolution apologizing for the "illegal overthrow" of the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1893.

In 1988, Congress passed, and President Reagan signed an act apologizing to the 120,000 Japanese-Americans held in detention camps during World War II. The 60,000 detainees are alive each received $20,000 from the government.

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