Politico.com is reporting this morning that the U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to consider an apology for slavery and discrimination next week.

H.Res. 194, introduced last year by Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) and co-sponsored by 120 representatives, would acknowledge the consequences of slavery and the century of brutal discrimination which followed.

The resolution would also have the House apologize “to African Americans on behalf of the people of the United States” for the harm done to them and to their ancestors. Finally, the resolution would express the commitment of the House “to rectify the lingering consequences” of this history.

H.Res. 194 will be taken up under suspension, which requires a two-thirds vote of the House.

In the Senate, Brownback and Harkin have pledged to introduce a similar resolution apologizing for slavery, which has the support of 17 co-sponsors, including Clinton and Obama. The Senate apology, rather than referring to rectifying the past, would explicitly reject reparations.

3 Responses to “U.S. House to consider slavery apology”

  1. johnperna says:

    Collective guilt punishes innocents. DeWolf descendents of slave traders are now supporting reparations. Why not offer to pay the reparations from their own family funds? The source of the reparations should be limited to the assets that were inherited from slave traders. In 1812 the DeWolfs owned more ships than the US Navy. In 1837, former U.S. Senator James DeWolf was the second richest man in America. Would the descendents of the slave traders volunteer to exchange their financial portfolios for the portfolios of the descendents of the slaves? The descendents of the slave traders might learn a lot from conversing with the descendents of the slaves while they wait together in the food stamp offices.Those who benefited from slavery should be the ones to compensate those who were injured by slavery. The slave traders benefited from slavery. The descendents of the slave traders now want to benefit again by making a films and books without volunteering to sacrifice their own assets.

  2. James says:

    John, I agree that collective guilt is not an appropriate way to think about any of these issues. I, for instance, would not have worded Cohen’s resolution as a apology on behalf of the (current) people of the United States, since they are not responsible for these past events. I think an apology on behalf of the U.S House of Representatives, or the U.S. government, would be reasonable, however, as these institutions were certainly complicit in slavery and discrimination.

    Contrary to what you write, I’m not aware of any DeWolf descendants who support reparations for slavery. If you know otherwise, I’d certainly be interested in knowing more.

    You also repeat a common misconception from the film, which is that the descendants of the DeWolf slave traders could pay reparations out of their own pockets. Since most descendants are ordinary Americans, they could not possibly afford to do that, and none of them has inherited anything from the days of the slave trade.

    Finally, you make the fascinating argument that those who have benefited from the slave trade should compensate those who have been injured by it. It’s no doubt true that today’s descendants of slave traders and slave owners have, on average, received benefits from slavery and the slave trade. Even those who haven’t inherited financial assets are likely to have received at least some intangible benefits.

    However, it’s also true that all Americans alive today have derived benefits from slavery and the slave trade. To take just a single example, our standard of living is many times higher than it likely would have been without slavery.

    Are you, therefore, prepared to call for slavery reparations from all Americans? Or does the logic of your argument not extend as far as it would seem?

  3. Len says:

    An apology from the government and notations in the congressional record needs to be stated, without reparations. Slavery was a product of the times, along with burning witches at the stake and the attempted genocide of the American Indian, all we can do is make a public apology for these actions and let it go. Hopefully, these will be the end of our mistakes against race and religious practices.

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