After years of skirting the issue, the Senate, in a surprising move, unanimously passed a resolution apologizing for slavery and sent it to the House of Representatives.
What’s next? Do reparations follow? It is important to note that the United States Senate resolution apologizing to African Americans for the wrongs of slavery is “not” tantamount to an offer of Reparations. Though it may be a step in the right direction, it is not what many believe or want it to be. Then what is it really? Does it have any meaning to African Americans? Consider what Archbishop Desmond Tutu said about the government in the post-apartheid South Africa, “Even if the White people gave us the sun, moon and stars, it would not mean anything. In order to ‘start’ the healing process, all they have to say is, ‘I’m sorry’.”
The non-binding resolution, sponsored by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), was passed unanimously in the Senate and sent to the House (of Representatives.)
Congresswoman Maxine Waters (CA-35) issued the following statement, in part, relative to the resolution: “Slavery remains a stain on American history, and many generations have been harmed. Even in 2009, all these years after Emancipation, an apology is indeed both important and meaningful. Here we have powerful, influential leaders who make important decision for our nation acknowledging the injustice and harm of slavery and its legacy. Remembering the past helps make sure that we do not allow hatred, bigotry, and intolerance to take hold and instead encourages everyone to think about interacting in an atmosphere of mutual respect and tolerance.”
As a candidate running for the presidency, Senator Barack Obama started off his speech in Philadelphia in 2008, echoing similar words that slavery was a stain on American history.
Many African Americans will interpret this apology in historic terms similar to the election of the first African American president; an event that they did not think they would ever see in their lifetime, and as the Congresswoman made it clear, in her statement, “Though this resolution is not a reparations bill, a closer reading makes clear that it does not preclude or interfere with efforts such as Congressman John Conyers’ resolution that creates a “Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African-Americans.”
In 1989, Conyers first introduced the H.R. 40 bill, formally known as “the Commission to Study Reparations Proposals for African American Act.” At present, it still has not gotten anywhere, and he has stated, “I have re-introduced H.R. 40 in every Congress since 1989, and will continue to do so until it’s passed into law.” Since then, has picked up some nominal support from a few other Members of Congress but his struggle to keep the Reparations issue alive in Congress is one of his landmark achievements on behalf of all Black people. The Senate resolution may not be “the” Reparations Bill that Conyers’ has envisioned but it definitely is an inch forward.
Another larger-than-life figure in the Reparations Movement who no doubt may interpret the apology as a step forward is Randall Robinson, the Harvard-educated lawyer and founder of TransAfrica. He lobbied America on behalf of Africa and the Caribbean and was instrumental in pressuring the apartheid government of South Africa resulting in the release of Nelson Mandela. He also wrote one of the definitive works on reparations: “The Debt,” published in 2000. In describing the horrors of slavery, Robinson commented, “Like slavery, other human rights crimes have resulted in the loss of millions of lives but only slavery, with its sadistic patience, asphyxiated memory, and smothered cultures, has hulled empty a whole race of people with inter-generational efficiency. It is a human rights crime without parallel in the modern world. For it produces its victims ad infinitum, long after the active stage of the crime has ended.”
Prior to Robinson’s explicit description, Minister Louis Farrakhan had detailed the Willie Lynch letter at the Million Man March in 1995 which described how a British slave owner taught others his methods of making of a slave, that if followed, would guarantee to perpetuate the system directed against Black people in America and the Caribbean.
Many states and municipalities have issued similar resolutions apologizing for slavery including Alabama, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina and Virginia, and there are others that are contemplating on following these states. Many prominent individuals have also joined, what has become known as the Reparations Movement: professors, businessmen, attorneys and members of the clergy. Some have formed organizations and some are working together while traveling different paths; but the goal is the same: reparations. They include Willie Gary, Charles Ogletree, Manning Marble, Ron Walters, Dr. Raymond Winbush, Dr. Conrad Worrill, the December 12th Movement (D-12), National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (N’COBRA), Reparations Coordinating Committee (RCC), National Black United Front (NBUF) and Silas Muhammad’s Nation of Islam.
As compelling as the resolution apologies are, thus far, they are only symbolic, and as previously stated, they are non-binding. But they open the door to debates, conversations, town-hall meetings, forums and criticisms. There are those who believe that apologies are controversial because they could lead to reparations. Congressman Conyers have said, “Most people can’t apologize without doing something to show good faith.” And in a conversation with author Ellis Cose, he stated, “Reparations is about repair, and repair is only necessary if you have damages that still exist.” Black people, most certainly have damages that still do exist.