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. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    Now we can all sing kumbaya

    June 18, 2009 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |

    I am still looking for mainstream news on the firing of Inspector General Walpin. Can we please get on with news.

    June 18, 2009 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  3. Doug, New Jersey

    Until we address the ideological slavery that liberals inflict on minorities, the apology is meaningless.

    June 18, 2009 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  4. Keep it Quiet, huh?

    ...and we were going to be told about this when...? Shame on CNN for putting this on the "back" page of news headlines.

    June 18, 2009 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  5. Brendan H., San Antonio, TX

    I would have thought Lincoln would have covered this, wouldn't you?!
    Of course, if you read Lincoln's papers, you know that while Lincoln loathed slavery, he never thought the "Negro" was equal to the White Man, and he wrote as much, even going so far as to propose a separate colony for the freed slaves in Central America.

    Now, Right-wingers, chew on that!

    June 18, 2009 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  6. jim

    This coming from a man who employed Cheney and Rumsfield...Nuf said!!

    June 18, 2009 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  7. gt

    get over it.................................

    June 18, 2009 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  8. Abby

    Queue the anonymous racists and the comments they would never have the nerve to say to an African American’s face.

    June 18, 2009 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  9. cindy

    150 years later? I know slavery was a terrible thing but my ancestors lost everything in the war too. You won't see me asking for money because it didn't happen to ME! And I am pretty sure that all of those who suffered from slavery are long dead. I know some will say "but because they were slaves, we are in the situation we are now in". Not so fast. Again, my family – who were plantation owners in the South – lost everything but here I sit with a job and a nice house and family. When will people realize that you only get as far as you aspire – no matter who or what you are. If you sit around waiting for handouts, that's all you will get. Anybody can be anything they want to be – just have to have the will power to do it!

    June 18, 2009 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  10. Peter E

    The emancipation of slaves was a political move by the republican party without any actual plan behind it. Funny how little the party has changed since its birth. Lincoln himself said he believed in the emancipation of slaves but that he did not believe in equal rights to blacks. And because of his party's lack of planning it took another 100 years of struggle and the Civil Rights movement to finally give blacks the equal rights they deserved. So next time your party grand-stands for human rights, please have an actual plan to implement, not just empty promises!

    June 18, 2009 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  11. munchmom

    My pockets are empty enough paying for all of Obama's socialist crap-I ain't givin' none to reparations!!

    June 18, 2009 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  12. dominican mama 4 Obama

    I don't care what anyone says, an apology from a branch of the United States government is a start. I'm not sure how you would go about making reparations. I don't really think it feasible. I mean you broke up families at the auction block, babies and children separated FOREVER from their mothers; husbands taken from their wives. I'm not convinced that reparations can be made for that, and so much, so much more.

    But it's another step in the right direction. Recognizing a very ugly and shameful period in the history of this great nation.

    June 18, 2009 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  13. Hakim in Frisco Texas

    Let's be clear African-Americans are not looking for a hand out. An acknowledgment and apology from the United States government is more than overdue. It's interesting how people say "move on", when it comes to 400 years of slavery, however, when it comes to the holocaust (which was absolutley terrible and a terrible stain on the world), no one ever says to move on. One can move on but still acknowledge the sins of the past. Think if a German person told a Jewish person to just move on. I look forward to the United States soon offering an official apology for slavery. I don't need reparations but doing the right thing is in order.

    June 18, 2009 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  14. Limbaugh is a liberal

    Let's face it, the Civil War and the true emancipation of African-Americans didn't conclude until 1964 with the signing of the Civil Rights Act by President Johnson. And the underlying cause of slavery and segregation that is racism and hatred is still alive today! The US is the only 1st world country where hate groups are still legal! The work is still not finished!

    June 18, 2009 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |

    As an Anfrican -American I have to say that I would accept your apology. Been a long time comming. As far as restitution goes, i don't want your money. I want you guys to invest in our communities, in our schools in our businesses, and etc. Helping our kids reach their true potentioal and have a better future in all aspects of life will be sufficient enough.

    June 18, 2009 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  16. bozo obama

    do not apologise for me, ever, ever.

    June 18, 2009 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  17. Rick Thornton

    And the apologies continue! It would certainly seem, that after 144 years, no apology or explanation should be needed. Just another wasteful act by our current administration.

    June 18, 2009 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  18. New Age Democrat

    What an incredible waste of taxpayers time and money. Harkin is an idiot.

    June 18, 2009 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  19. RH

    "...on behalf of the people of the United States..."

    They should have said "government." I was born in 1980 and owe no apologies to anyone. I find it offensive that the US government would presume to speak for me in this matter.

    At some point, blacks in the US are going to have to hold THEMSELVES responsible for their own lives. If this sort of government action can help them to let go of the persistent mentality of victimhood that has plagued them for so long, fine, but not in my name. Don't expect me to hold my breath, either.

    June 18, 2009 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  20. Kenyan Wonder Kid

    We all hate the slavery that happened around the world, and in the US, about 150 years ago. (Note that black-black slavery still exists in Africa today). We get that. I wasn't around then, nor my parents, and so I do not apologize for this. I do not think it is the responsibility of today's US government, either. We went to war to end it, and hundreds of thousands died. Apology enough!

    It seems that our loony lib government is now consumed with making apologies to everybody and taking care of our bloated government rather than taking care (and steering clear) of the people!

    Well, I'm sorry but I don't feel a need for us to apologize to anyone about anything. Actually, I am not sorry about that either!

    June 18, 2009 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |

    apology yes..compensation..NO! The decendants did not suffer, in fact they have benefited from the white guilt brought on by slavery.

    June 18, 2009 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  22. Travis

    It is a good thing what the senate did, but I still 100% disaggree with giving any form of reperations. The only way that would be reasonable in any sense would be if the actual person who was a slave was the one given the reperation, but not their descendant or ancestor.

    June 18, 2009 02:26 pm at 2:26 pm |
  23. Nelson Colorado Springs Co.

    As a Black Man I think there is no need for congress to passed a resolution apologizing for slavery to the Black People of the United States of America for the wrongs committed against them and their ancestors who suffered under slavery and Jim Crow laws." America has came a long way but Racism is still alive and doing well. congress need to pass a law to provide equal rights and opportunities not only for blacks people for everyone. Slavery is a apart for America History

    June 18, 2009 02:27 pm at 2:27 pm |
  24. carlo

    Long overdue.

    June 18, 2009 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  25. w.l. jones

    In reality slavery did not end untile 1964 ,the new slave were call sharecropper, Said enough.

    June 18, 2009 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
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