Local Politics

Backers of Apology for Slavery Urge Change, Too

Posted April 9, 2007 8:21 p.m. EDT
Updated April 10, 2007 7:12 a.m. EDT

— Slaves were viewed as property, not people. Of course, North Carolina cannot erase the injustices of slavery and the segregationist Jim Crow laws that followed. Lawmakers can apologize, however, and two resolutions in the Legislature offer profound regret for the state's past institution of oppression.

There are questions, however, including whether an apology for the past changes anything for the future.

“I think it’s a good thing they're recognizing slavery was morally wrong in this country, but I also think it won't effect a lot of change,” said Bryan Booker, an assistant professor of history at St. Augustine's College.

State Rep. Dan Blue, D-Wake County, sees the need to link past and future, too.

“I think its important to acknowledge that it was wrong, and everybody needs to understand that happened. But, we have to be more aggressive pursuing policies,” said the great grandson of slaves.

Yet, Blue said he opposes reparations to descendants of slaves, which some have argued are deserved.

“How do you sort those out from a strictly legal standpoint? How do you assess the damages?” Blue said.

Blue said a more practical answer is to enforce civil rights laws already on the books—make a stronger commitment to close the racial achievement gap in schools, hold employers to equality standards and investigate a justice system in which African Americans make up a disproportionate share of the prison population.

“I'm thinking of a more sustained, more long-term kind of effort that we all ought to partake in, not solely as a sense of indebtedness, but as a sense of investment for our own well-being,” Blue said.

A resolution passed the Senate last week. A similar bill is now before the House.

Some critics see no need to apologize for the sins of North Carolina's ancestors, but the bills have bipartisan support. Virginia and Maryland have passed similar measures.