Tue 1 Jan, 2008
Tags: Apologies, Legislation, New Jersey, Slavery, States
According to an A.P. wire story this morning, the New Jersey state legislature will hold a hearing this week on a resolution which would apologize for New Jersey’s role in slavery.
Update: The resolution passed out of committee today, and is scheduled for a vote by the full Assembly on Monday. The N.J. Senate is not currently scheduled to act on the resolution before the legislative session expires on Tuesday.
New Jersey would become the six state in the past year, and the northernmost state, to apologize for slavery. (The A.P. story mistakenly says this would be the fifth state to apologize.)
New Jersey’s history of slavery is a particularly troubling one. The state had a large slave population for a northern state, was the last state in the northeast to abolish slavery, and initially refused to ratify the 13th Amendment, prohibiting slavery in the U.S. The resolution also emphasizes that the legacy of slavery endures to this day, in the plight of many black Americans and in the treatment of all who are identified as black.
Opponents of the measure offer some of the standard arguments against an apology: that an apology would be meaningless in the absence of either the perpetrators or their victims, who are long dead; that those alive today bear no guilt or responsibility for the past; and that the wrongs of slavery were somehow repaid by the deaths of Union soldiers during the Civil War. Proponents point out that the state, which still exists, has never apologized or atoned for its role in slavery; that the Civil War was not fought to end slavery; that merely ending an evil practice hardly atones for it; that the legacy of slavery still remains in our society; and that remorse, if not an actual apology, can be meaningful to both white and black citizens today.
On a rather horrifying note, one member of the New Jersey state assembly suggested that blacks should offer thanks for slavery:
. . . if slavery was the price that a modern American’s ancestors had to pay in order to make one an American, one should get down on one’s knees every single day and thank the Lord that such price was paid.
The resolution would have to be passed by both chambers of the New Jersey legislature before next Tuesday, when the current legislative session ends.