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. I laugh at Limbaugh daily

    The rednecks in the south cringe at the very thought of this act and want the return of slavery for their cheap wages or non at all.

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

    Get – over – it – America!

    June 18, 2009 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  3. Scott W.

    Finally, we can put all this racism behind us!

    June 18, 2009 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  4. independent

    over n over n over n over

    June 18, 2009 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  5. Longhorn#1

    This is a sad day. No one living today is due any apology. These people need to be seeking the tribes that sold them into slavery and asking forgiveness of them. I as an ancestor of a slave owner don't owe them anything. I don't believe in it and wouldn't partake in it but to apoligize for WHAT?

    June 18, 2009 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  6. JA/TN

    show me the money

    June 18, 2009 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  7. Nia - AZ

    About time!!!

    June 18, 2009 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  8. ch

    WAY too little and WAY too late.

    African-American should be given some financial benefits/ compensation for the generations of suffering caused by slavery and discrimnation.

    June 18, 2009 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  9. Vegas Barbie the Paralegal for Obama

    It's about time, though kind of hundreds of years too late. Interesting twist that it does not have to be sent to the President, who happens to be our first African-American President for signature. I am sure the GOP and neocons will twist that to somehow be his fault or say he is avoiding it. It's also a sorry commentary that they pass something like this while Jim Crow practices–both overt and covert–are still alive and well in the undercurrnents of racist America. No bill will contribute to the enlightenment and evolvement of the ignorant people who continue to treat black people as second rate citizens.

    June 18, 2009 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  10. Mike in NYC

    Thanks, Sam. Nice to know that "conservatives" can spit in the face of their White constituents, too.

    Don't you dare apologize on my behalf. On my own behalf, I take back the apology, as my ancestors had nothing to do with slavery.

    As far as "reparations" go, there's already the over $1 trillion in wealth transferred from Whites to blacks in the form of entitlements enjoyed disproportionately by blacks, and paid for overwhelmingly by Whites. If that isn’t “reparations,” and then some, then nothing is. Of course, that’s just common sense, which is no competition for the obese cash cow known as White Guilt.

    I'd be interested in the entire text of the resolution. Did it blame blacks’ seemingly eternal problems on the "legacy of slavery," like a similar atrocity passed by the New Jersey state legislature not too long ago?

    You got your black POTUS. He made it, despite being abandoned by his black father. Any further excuses are now falling on deaf ears.

    June 18, 2009 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  11. Eric B.

    As an African American, my initial reaction to reading this was "LOL!". Apologizing for something like this is... moot. It's not as if those appointed in the Senate today are the same individuals who supported slavery and Jim Crow laws back in those days. We don't control the past; the past controls us.

    June 18, 2009 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  12. Bob of Lompoc

    Did Boss Limbaugh authorize Republican Senators to vote for this ? I doubt it.

    June 18, 2009 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
  13. Julia Byrd- Hayden Idaho

    My great great grand father, Jim Bridger married Little Fawn, Chief Washakie's daughter, therefore I am part Shoshone, I agree that the Native Americans do deserve an apology. My mother was put in a boarding school, these kids were treated terrible, they cut her hair, if they spoke their Native language they were beaten, this is mild compared to what the Settlers did to the Indians, I also say Amen to the apology to the African Americans, and should there should be compensation to ALL people that were that were put into slavery. Yes, Native Americans were rounded up the by U.S. Army and many were killed. I won't elaborate further but look up the Trail of Tears. Shame, shame, shame on the government.

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

    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.

    You have got to be kidding me.

    June 18, 2009 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
  15. Lee - Austin, TX

    Amazing that it took until 2009....

    June 18, 2009 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |
  16. seebofubar

    I hope only the Democrats apologized since it was the democratic party that supported and proliferated slavery. Remember, it was a republican president Lincoln who fought against and abolished slavery.

    June 18, 2009 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  17. Jason K.

    I could have sworn in the last election that we voted for change. But Bush and that old gas-bag Cheney seem t think that things were just swell as they had them!

    June 18, 2009 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  18. John

    Here we go. First the apology and then the handouts of money for the slavery that black folks ancestors endured. Just another way of separating us all so that we all fall down. Did our government ever apologize to the native americans? the Japanese forced out of their homes during WW II? People are becoming color blind but the government is not.

    June 18, 2009 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  19. Esco

    We all know actions speak louder than words...you can apologize for an eternity and get no where. Why not help the black americans or native americans that have ancestors gain something by having an opportunity to get a job, or volunteer to do something for their community? Why not help them, so they can help others?

    Its a very touchy subject, but who cares. There is a reason why God let it happen for so long, just like the Israelites suffered under Pharaoh; the Holacaust.

    They see Obama paying tribute, and it finally hit home. Better late than never i guess...

    June 18, 2009 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  20. Nathan from Atlanta

    Enough already with the apologies. Slavery was a long time ago its time to stop looking back and start looking forward.

    -33 yr old Black man from Atlanta-

    June 18, 2009 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  21. M - Pleeeeese!

    To All Those with the GET OVER ATTITUDE,

    Understand that slavery is a part of this country's history, so we never should stop talking about, just like we continue to talk about and commemorate the founding fathers who penned the Constitution. Slavery is just one of the injustices in our society that made us READ, and re-read the Consititution so that we can continue to 'form a more perfect union.'

    I don't need an apology, but my ancestors, and their supporters don't deserve a "get over it attitude" either. That is insulting to their legacy.

    June 18, 2009 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  22. David

    It's Finally Done!...now let's move forward.

    June 18, 2009 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  23. Willy Brown

    Leave it to the democrats to suck up for votes

    June 18, 2009 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  24. gl, From Pittsburgh

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

    AND WE STILL HAVING. Republicans are still racist toward Blacks. Look how they have treated President Obama and his wife with nasty racist jokes and nasty hatful comments for the right wing white nuts. We still have a mountain way to go. Just look at how the Repubicans make nasty joke about President Obama and don't apology.

    June 18, 2009 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  25. What?

    Keep you apologies. AA are behind the ball on almost every facet of American life. Apologies are nice, but they cant fix that.

    Give us our equivalent of forty acres and a mule.

    June 18, 2009 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
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