By Frank James

The U.S. Senate formally apologized for slavery and the segregationist Jim Crow laws of the 20th Century today.

Lester ex slave

Angelina Lester, an ex-slave who lived in Ohio during the 1930s when she was interviewed an photographed as part of the Federal Writers' Project. Ohio Historical Society

But any African American who thinks this smooths the way for reparations can forget about it. The resolution was specifically worded to prevent the apology's use in demands for recompense. (Only a few former slaves were ever meant to get the 40 acres and a mule, after all.)

Here's an excerpt from NPR's David Welna report on All Things Considered.

WELNA: The Senate chamber was nearly empty this morning as Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin rose to call for a measure he said was long overdue the descendants of four million black people who were enslaved in the U.S.
HARKIN: A national apology by the representative body of the people is a necessary collective response to a past collective injustice. So it is both appropriate and imperative that congress fulfill its moral obligation and officially apologize for slavery and Jim Crow laws.


WELNA: The congressional apology is made to African Americans on behalf of the people of the United States for quote "the wrongs committed against them and their ancestors." That's followed, though, by a disclaimer which says nothing in the resolution authorizes any claim against the United States. Kansas Republican Sam Brownback, who co-sponsored the measure, says that disclaimer was necessary to win the support of senators who feared the apology could be used by African Americans seeking reparations:


BROWNBACK: It was a difficult negotiation. We had to get the reparation issue right. We said it it doesn't give it, it doesn't solve it. And that was a key part of a negotiation that was touchy.


WELNA: Last year the House passed a similar resolution, but without the reparations disclaimer. New York House Democrat Gregory Meeks, who's a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, says he's not sure he supports the Senate's reparations disclaimer:


MEEKS: If it is, can be construed to mean that you know it rules out, we're gonna apologize but we're ruling out any possible suits or anything in the future that may bring in reparations, then that's a problem.


For the resolution to become official, the House now would have to pass the Senate bill.

categories: History

6:46 - June 18, 2009