June 18th, 2009
01:58 PM ET
13 years ago

Senate apologizes for slavery

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.

Filed under: Senate
soundoff (100 Responses)
  1. FAYE, NV

    Let the healing begin this is a new day. Change is Coming to America. Very proud of this move by the Senate.

    June 18, 2009 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  2. Tina, California

    Wow...I dont know where to start.....Finally, I feel some relief knowing that the wrong doings of slavery are acknowledge. Where do we go from here? My ancestors are probably smiling from above saying, "Well its about time", but for me personally I dont know how or what to feel about this decision...Maybe I will get back to you later when I have thought about it...

    Thank you Jesus!

    June 18, 2009 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  3. Marti

    It's not my fault there was slavery in the United States and I think this apology is a slap in the face of many American's just like me. I am sick of all the "victims" in this country, now what? Apology accepted? Now, where do we go from here, and is it over yet? Not by a long shot, nothing will ever be good enough for some.

    June 18, 2009 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  4. John

    I think it is so funny that the liberals blame Bush...Have you all forgotten that America had the lowest unemployment in 25 years, the highest stock market in history and the largest housing market ever while Bush was our President? All that changed two years ago...for all you liberals that do not pay attention to real news...that is when the Democrats took over the Senate and House. If you truly call yourself an American you would know history and that history tells you that it is private business that creates the best country in the world. Private business and the freedom to develop new ideas are what made this country the greatest country in the world. That freedom is slowly slipping out of our hands with every new law and regulatory committee that the Obama administration is creating. I am not making this stuff up. It is happening right before your eyes.

    God Bless America and God Bless our Troops.

    June 18, 2009 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  5. What?

    Give us what you promised us US Government. Give us our 40 acres and our mules!

    Show us your apology. Words mean NOTHING!

    June 18, 2009 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
  6. michelle

    Yeah cuz you did such a terrific job George...idiot!

    June 18, 2009 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  7. Kelly Copeland

    I am absolutely not a racist I believe in total equality for all in the human race, but I am extremely frustrated at our politicians when it seems all they do is apoligize to someone. Someone apoligize to my uncles who had to serve in the armed forces, someone apoligize to my friends who are scarred for life from Vietnam. Who knows what my ancestors had to face to come to America.

    Slavery was and is wrong, but as with the atrocities in Africa today, the early slaves were sold by their own people.
    If we were to trace the roots of the majority of African Americans today, the majority would see that they enjoy, like I do the freedoms of America because of the terrible price their forefathers paid.

    Whatever price was paid for me to live here, I blame no one but am extremely thankful like all races whose tickets were paid by the suffering of others.
    Please quit apoligizing be thankful

    June 18, 2009 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  8. Once You Vote Black: PUMA where are you?

    I accept, now let me tell you where I want my money sent.

    June 18, 2009 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  9. Bill

    When are will they issue an apology for the white slaves that suffered in the United States also? Contrary to history as it is taught in school hudreds of thosands of people from Europe were also brought to the U.S. as slaves.

    June 18, 2009 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  10. floyzell

    You can talk about apologizing for slavery all you want it will not stop racism in the United States of America now or in the future

    June 18, 2009 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  11. Once You Vote Black: PUMA where are you?

    Please remitt my share of the reperations as follows: 50% to ACORN, and 50% to Savannah State University as a donation.

    June 18, 2009 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  12. Stacey

    Congratulations for apologizing for something that happened before we were all alive.

    Now if we can just get those danged mongols to apologize for that Ghengis Khan thing...

    June 18, 2009 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  13. Armand N.

    I often do not take appologies that much but there is a need to fix problems. Is somebody going to apologize for racism tomorrow? It needs a deep reflexion on how to fix disparities in this country more than apologizing. The problem is somewhere else today and the solution is not the one being offered!

    June 18, 2009 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  14. Melissa

    Now that is something I never thought I'd see.

    June 18, 2009 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  15. pakuna

    While they are apologizing for the wrongs of slavery and segregation to the blacks. How bout apologizing to the Catholics for the same thing, how bout to the Chinese in America for the same thing and lets not forget the whites and the other nationals in America that were held and are still being held in slavery and segregation.

    June 18, 2009 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  16. I can see Canada from my house!

    Watch the Whacko Right go ballistic over this........they are probably already Twittering and Facebooking, decrying the denigration of white Southern culture by the big, bad Federal Government. Their solution for this issue will most likely be a tax break for the descendents of slave owners to compensate them for their losses.

    Don't laugh, it is probably happening as we speak.

    June 18, 2009 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  17. Bill in California

    DON'T STOP THERE. You have a myriad of misplaced American natives from coast to coast that have been waiting as long or longer. Not to mention the lands taken from Mexico under the guise of 'Manifest Destiny'. This is nothing but PC appeasement until the next squeaky wheel gets oiled.

    June 18, 2009 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  18. phoenix86

    My great-great-great-great grandfather stubbed his toe on a US government sign in Montana 100 years ago. Can I get an apology from Congress for that as well?

    June 18, 2009 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  19. Max

    Really....well thanks for the apologies, what about the emotional and mental damage? Apologies can't and won't fix that. An E for effort though.

    June 18, 2009 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  20. phoenix86

    And to the future generations of Americans, we should apologize for electing such a bafoon to the White House as Obama.

    June 18, 2009 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  21. Once You Vote Black: PUMA where are you?

    Finally! The Whiteman has come to grips with what he has done. That is a good start, now each state should follow suit. If we did not have a Black President the Senate would have never done this. And you cannot blame the black people because there is not one of us in the Senate. Genetal Lee must be spinning in his hell hole.

    June 18, 2009 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  22. CensoredLikeIranByCNN

    Thats not good enough! The companies or families who tortured these slaves should be fine and prosecuted for their awful acts. That will show we really are sorry for this inhuman act. Not only that but we need to help the African American community. They deserve a lot more than freedom...

    June 18, 2009 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  23. martin sargeant

    the united states is an embassment to the civilized world. we don't practice what we preach. we say we stand fro democrasy mor4e like hypocrasy. we remove hussein from power only to give him back to the people he oppressed what did we think would happen san clemente no death. a lot like taking drug pushers and handing them over to the famalies of the people who's lives they affected. the jews received reparations from the united states and the hollocaust didn't even happen in america. just as shure as there are wealthy americans in america most of the old wealth in america was made off the backs of americans slaves appology jee thanks tell that to my grandparents who are still alive and half black and white due to rape form the days of slavery please dont insult us with your affirmative action nonsense man up and do the right and only thing for this nation to heal we were victims not propery or colleagues.

    June 18, 2009 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  24. Mississippi Mike

    Slavery was banned by the federal government, what, 140 years ago? Why this legislation now? A better idea would be to apologize for destroying the Black family by rewarding single motherhood and for the wrongs being committed against White males through "diversity" and "affirmative action" programs.

    June 18, 2009 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  25. Zeb

    Is "reparations" going to be the new euphemism for Welfare?

    This apology is asinine. In the history of Humanity, all kinds of groups have been treated very badly by others, not just American slaves. Why are they singled out? There are neither offenders nor victims living, so what's the point. This is ludicrous.

    June 18, 2009 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
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