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. Crazy ass human being

    And this does what? No one alive today has been a keeper of slaves.
    My ancestors did not own slaves. Many of our past poiticians owned slaves yet we revel in their greatness.

    June 18, 2009 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  2. Tom Paine

    Um...hello...black president? This is necessary 145 years after the 13th Amendement? The US Senate is the most worthless body ever created.

    June 18, 2009 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  3. John B

    You have got to be kidding me! Haven't people been apologizing for long enough. It doesn't matter what you say or do, the white man will always bring black people down. Even with a black president in office it's still not good enough for African Americans in this country, even though they walk around like they own the place.

    June 18, 2009 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  4. dan

    what happened to the apology of 6 million jews that were tortured and targeted for extermination? what happened to the apology of the jewish people for thousands of years being oppressed and forced to leave land throughtout history? only until 1948 when isreal won independence from the Arab control middleeast. What happened to the apology for the continous taget today of the jewish people? think it is a little one sided my friends. African Americans are capable of creating their own peace, and become one with everyone else. meaining enough of the babying and apologys

    June 18, 2009 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  5. DONNA

    Give me a break!! There are very few people alive today that lived as a slave in America. I do not apologize for this injustice to blacks because I had no part in it. I don't believe in slavery and do not condone it; but I won't apologize and give money to a society that was not enslaved by me. This is ridiculous! The ones who should get the apologies are dead and gone. This is just another way for blacks to get more free money from my tax dollars. Get up; go to work like I have to do.

    June 18, 2009 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  6. Sniffit

    "It takes a long time, Brownback said, to "break through the racial barrier.""

    Next up: sexual orientation barrier. Cry all you want homophobes, but we're getting pretty good at destroying the legal and institutionalized remnants of bigotry. I'm thinking we'll be knocking down this barrier a bit quicker than the last few.

    June 18, 2009 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  7. Well Done Senators

    As an African American, I would like to commend the Senate. It was a very noble gesture, and it is appreciated.

    While I don't believe in reparations or cash to individuals, I do however think it would be a great idea to have scholarship programs given to selected universities for diversity education and training. Education is the key to combat prejudice.

    Well done Senators, well done.

    June 18, 2009 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  8. MatthewDetroit

    This is a stupid waste of time and a useless political move.
    Everyone alive today is against slavery.
    Who is trying to impress who now.
    No one alive today is a slave.
    Get over it and move on. If you have problems then see a therapist, but get over it.

    June 18, 2009 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  9. AMN

    Reparations? I am annoyed with my Brothers and Sisters waiting for reparations. We were not the ones out there picking tobacco until our hands bled, being raped and dehumanized, being beaten and having our limbs chopped off. That was our ancestors, have some respect and take advantage of the opportunities they died for us to have...remember the Lord, stay in school, stop buying things you can't pay for, and get the family structure back on track.

    June 18, 2009 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  10. MatthewDetroit

    Also everyone needs to get over the barrier joke.
    The last time I checked a black male was president of the united states. I dont think there are any closed doors except in peoples minds. Everyone needs to stop using it for an excuse and move on. Get a job. Get a education. Get what ever you want. Work hard conquers all. Everyone has a chance to succeed and do well.

    June 18, 2009 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  11. dan

    i do mean the entire world knew what was going on over 40 yrs ago. we are passing a resolution that apologizes for them.

    June 18, 2009 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
  12. franco

    These lame-brain lawmakers, faced with a multitude of serious national issues, choose to lollygag into trivial non-binding nonsense. Oh, how I wish we could throw all these bums out!

    June 18, 2009 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
  13. Kevin

    Its about time if the so call Jews can get $10 Billion a year for the misery they suffered, something america had nothing to do with, then we African Americans needs reparations too. I want my student loans paid off and $175,000 cash tax free.

    June 18, 2009 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
  14. Michigan Jim

    And the point of this is what, exactly?

    Tell you what — go back, do your research, and identify your direct ancestors who suffered under slavery. Then learn who enslaved them and trace their direct descendents to the present day. Tax those people to pay slave descendents. Sound fair? I didn't think so, but you won't find any of my ancestors in the slave-owning ranks.

    June 18, 2009 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  15. bob in LA

    Does this mean we have never said this? I find it hard to believe this is the first time the government has apologized given the number of laws on the books dealing with the issue.

    June 18, 2009 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  16. WeThePeopleOfVA

    Are you kidding me? I thought the mandate was to not look back. If it helps America . . . I'M SORRY, NOW CAN WE FOCUS ON THE JOB AT HAND?

    June 18, 2009 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  17. Balph

    With all of the problems facing the US the congress has nothing better to do than pass meaningless resolutions? Shouldn't they be looking towards our future?

    June 18, 2009 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  18. gbatts

    first of all TARP is an expensive cost of funds to banks and the taxpayer will end up making money. The stimulus will delay recovery for years. Obama is successfully implementing his socialist agenda and the real problem is media malpractice combined with the vast amount of Americans who believe everything they hear and are not intelligent enough to do their own homework!

    June 18, 2009 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  19. diogenes

    Also eliminate that word slaves from the lexicon.
    These were 'enslaved' Africans people not slaves. their offsprings should be referred to as descendants of enslaved Africans. They too were not slaves – not anymore than Rush Limbaugh would be a slave if he were captured and forced to labor in the deserts of Ouagadougou. He would be an enslaved man...... and his kids would be the descendants of the enslaved Rush Limbaugh....

    June 18, 2009 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  20. ObamaShrugged

    In related stories, the English Parliament apologized for the Crudades, the Italian government apologized for feeding Christians to the Lions, and some guy from Mesopotamia apologized for some caveman dragging a cavegirl by her ponytail!

    June 18, 2009 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  21. Carl

    Is this a joke?

    What about Native Americans? What about the Chinese? What about Japanese Americans during WW 2 being forced into enternment camps for 4 years? No doubt slavery of any kind is absolutely wrong and horrible, but why is this even on the Senate floor, when a bill trying to audit the Federal Reserve, which gave away $13.9 trillion and counting since September 2008 to UNKNOWN recepitents, is currently collecting dust on the Senate floor.

    The House version, HR 1207, now has enough co-sponsors to win a vote in the House (239 at last count I believe). I'm sorry, but a bill trying to expose the true state of the economy is far more important than any apology.

    June 18, 2009 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  22. Walter Wilson

    Enough already!

    There's a good reason the rear-view mirror is so much smaller than the front windshield. Rather than working on your campaigns, do something about the economy!

    June 18, 2009 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  23. A Proud Arrogant American

    And what about the Japanese internment camps survivors, the Irish immigrants who were wage slaves, the American Indians who were given blankets infected with smallpox, and the Chinese who were forced to build railroads? Where will it end? I didn't own slaves, or poison Indians or force Irish or Chinese to be wage slaves. Were these people wronged? Of course they were, but it's HISTORY.

    Also, the Emancipation Proclamation did not free any slaves.

    June 18, 2009 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  24. Mr. Magic

    If the govt really wants to do something for the African American community why don't they step in and stop the rise of white supremacist and right wing extremist that keep treating our nation due to the race of the president, just like they stepped in and killed the Black Panthers.

    As an African American I don't feel that cash payments or any kind of monetary gift will do anything. First of all it is like buying our forgiveness.

    What we want is to know that the govt will enforce laws equally and that justice is truly blind

    June 18, 2009 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  25. A-Wax

    Only 145 years late. Way to go, senate!

    June 18, 2009 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
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