Earlier this year, I wrote about Massachusetts State Representative Byron Rushing’s proposed slavery-era disclosure law. At that time, I indicated that Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts & Cultural Development should hold a public hearing later in the year.

The committee has now scheduled a public hearing for Monday, October 5 at 1:00pm at which testimony will be heard on Rushing’s bill, H 3148. The hearing will be held at the Strand Theatre in Dorchester.

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Katrina Browne at Cape Coast CastleMy cousin Katrina Browne has a commentary up this afternoon at CNN.com, entitled “Slavery needs more than an apology.”

Katrina is the director and producer of the Emmy-nominated PBS documentary Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North. The film explores the history and legacy of our ancestors, who were the most successful slave-trading family in U.S. history.

In her commentary, Katrina writes about the significance of the U.S. Senate’s apology this summer for the nation’s history of slavery and racial discrimination. She discusses how little most Americans understand about this history or its enduring significance today, and asks why we cannot embrace this history and address its consequences in a positive spirit today.

On the occasion of July 4th, I write to commend to the readers of this blog the landmark 1852 speech by Frederick Douglass entitled, “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro” (or “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”).

Read casually, this oft-cited speech can easily be misinterpreted in the same way as Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s famous sermon was: as a condemnation of all that the United States stands for. A close reading of both orations, however, reveals that while they brutally acknowledge the nation’s shortcomings, they also take pains to praise its strengths and, especially, its ability to improve itself with each successive generation:

Fellow Citizens, I am not wanting in respect for the fathers of this republic. The signers of the Declaration of Independence were brave men. They were great men, too ….

Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common.

The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth July is yours, not mine.

Fellow-citizens, above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, to-day, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them.

To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs, and to chime in with the popular theme, would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and the world.

But I fancy I hear some one of my audience say, “It is just in this circumstance that you and your brother abolitionists fail to make a favorable impression on the public mind. Would you argue more, an denounce less; would you persuade more, and rebuke less; your cause would be much more likely to succeed.”

At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. … For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed ….

Allow me to say, in conclusion, notwithstanding the dark picture I have this day presented, of the state of the nation, I do not despair of this country. There are forces in operation which must inevitably work the downfall of slavery.

I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope.

These are short excerpts. For the full speech, see here.

Update: David Harris, of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School, a colleague of Professor Charles Ogletree and a longtime supporter of Traces of the Trade, has an provocative op-ed in this morning’s Boston Globe which discusses how public readings of this speech today can foster dialogue about issues of race.

This morning, the U.S. Senate is scheduled to debate and vote on the apology for slavery and racial discrimination offered by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa).

Debate on the resolution should begin around 10:30am (Eastern time), following a period of morning business which begins at 9:45am and could last up to an hour, and will be broadcast live on C-SPAN2.

Update: The Senate is now debating the resolution, beginning with a reading of the full text, including its recitation of the dark history of U.S. slavery and racial discrimination.

Update 2: The Senate has passed S. Con. Res. 26. by voice vote and without dissent. The resolution will now move to the House, where Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) is expected to shepherd the resolution.

The Senate, operating under unanimous consent, has set aside up to an hour for debate on the apology resolution. No amendments will be permitted, and following the debate, the Senate is expected to pass the apology by voice vote.

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U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) has introduced a bipartisan resolution into the U.S. Senate apologizing for the nation’s history of slavery and racism.

The resolution, S. Con. Res. 26, would have the U.S. Congress acknowledge the nation’s long and brutal history of slavery and racial discrimination, and apologize “on behalf of the people of the United States” to black Americans “for the wrongs committed against them and their ancestors” under slavery and Jim Crow.

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Connecticut has become the first state in New England to apologize for its role in centuries of slavery and racial discrimination.

Late last night, as the 2009 regular legislative session was about to end, the state Senate voted unanimously to approve the joint resolution of apology which was passed by the state’s House of Representatives two weeks ago.

Connecticut thus becomes the eighth state to apologize for slavery in the past two years, joining Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, and New Jersey. Expressions of apology have also been considered in a number of other states, and Connecticut is not expected to be the last state to offer an apology.

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Yesterday, I wrote about the slavery apology passed by the Connecticut House of Representatives and, because it was a breaking story, had to settle for linking to the A.P. wire story on the site of the Hartford Courant.

This morning, the Courant has its own story about the vote, which begins:

More than 200 years after the fact, the state House of Representatives voted Thursday to formally apologize for slavery in Connecticut.

I think this opening line powerfully illustrates the importance of finally, and fully, acknowledging our society’s sordid history around slavery and race.

Just what does the reporter believe happened in Connecticut more than 200 years ago?

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The Connecticut House of Representatives voted unanimously today in favor of a resolution declaring “profound contrition” for the state legislature’s historic role in slavery and racial discrimination.

Connecticut would become the second northern state, after New Jersey, and the first state in New England, to apologize for its role in slavery and discrimination.

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I’ve previously blogged about the grassroots effort in Rhode Island to change the state’s name. In short, this movement seeks to remove the words “Providence Plantations” on the ground that the word “plantation” is now too intertwined with slavery.

There is a letter to the editor in today’s edition of the Newport (R.I.) Daily News arguing the case for this name change. The letter is co-authored by my uncle, Dain Perry, and Nick Figueroa of ULMAC:

Newport Daily News

Dain is, like me, a direct descendant of James DeWolf, the leading slave-trader in U.S. history, and appears in the documentary Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North. Nick is a leading figure in ULMAC, an organization which advocates on behalf of racial minorities in Rhode Island, and which has been pushing for the name change.

As I’ve reported previously, there is a joint resolution pending this year before the R.I. legislature on the name-change issue. The resolution has been the subject of hearings in both chambers this spring; it has passed out of committee in the House, and is awaiting action by the full House.

The letter is well-written and makes a strong case for changing the state’s name. My only quibble would be that the letter suggests that the word “plantation” has gone from being an innocent word to one which is dominated by a “malignant” image, much as the swastika became unavoidably linked to the atrocities of the Nazi era.

As someone who encounters the word “plantation” frequently in contexts unrelated to slavery, I’m unconvinced that this has become nothing less than the “true meaning” of the word today. As many dictionaries, encyclopedias, or the work of many historians would illustrate, “plantation” is still often used in ways entirely unconnected to slavery. Instead, I would have focused on an argument closely related to that offered in the letter and on the blog run by Nick and his group, We Are Not a Plantation: that the historical connection of the word “plantation” to slavery in this country naturally makes its use in the state’s official name deeply offensive to many of our citizens, particularly those with a deeply personal connection our history as a slave society.

To read the letter, you may click on the image above, or read the text of the letter below the jump:

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Breaking the Silence, Beating the DrumToday is the United Nation’s International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

In commemoration of the event this year, the U.N. has organized a series of programs this week, in New York and around the world.

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