WASHINGTON (CNN) - The U.S. Senate on Thursday passed a resolution apologizing to African-Americans for the wrongs of slavery and segregation.
The nonbinding resolution sponsored by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, is similar to a House resolution adopted last year that acknowledged the wrongs of slavery but offered no reparations. The House will have to vote on the issue again, because its composition changed after last November's elections.
Only a handful of senators was present for the voice vote, which came a day before Juneteenth, or June 19, the day in 1865 when word of the Emancipation Proclamation reached Texas.
It is the oldest-known U.S. celebration commemorating the end of slavery, according to the National Registry.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, hesitated when she announced the vote results.
"The ayes have it," she said slowly, then repeated, "the ayes have it."
Because the resolution is nonbinding, it does not have to be forwarded to the president for his signature.
Several states have passed similar resolutions, but the House resolution was the first time a branch of the federal government did so.
Harkin's resolution, co-sponsored by 21 senators, "acknowledges the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality and inhumanity of slavery, and Jim Crow laws," and "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."
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 that acted to deny the right to vote and other civil liberties to African-Americans, and to legally segregate them from whites.
Some members of the African-American community have called on lawmakers to give cash payments or other financial benefits to descendants of slaves as compensation for the suffering caused by slavery.
One of the resolution's Republican co-sponsors, Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, talked about strides made in the attempt to provide equal rights and opportunities for blacks.
Among them, he said, was the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education case in Topeka, Kansas, which became a landmark as the U.S. Supreme Court removed the legal basis for racial segregation in schools.
It takes a long time, Brownback said, to "break through the racial barrier."
"It's part of how difficult it is to get to where we are as a society," he said, and "there's a lot of pain and suffering that goes along the way."
He said he hopes "all those people and individuals who have had these sorts of personal experiences ... will be able to see in this some acknowledgment of what happened to them, an acknowledgment that it was wrong, and an apology for it.
"It doesn't fix it, but hopefully it does address it and starts to dig out the wound."
– CNN's Lisa Desjardins contributed to this report.