The U.S. Senate approved a resolution on Thursday calling on Congress to officially apologize for slavery and segregation of African-Americans. The House is set to take up the resolution as early as next week.
If approved, the resolution would be the first time Congress has ever formally apologized on behalf of the United States for slavery. Six state legislatures — in Virginia, Alabama, Florida, Maryland, New Jersey and North Carolina — have adopted their own resolutions apologizing for slavery, but past proposals in Congress have stalled. In fact, a similar resolution was put forth one year ago by Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.). That bill passed the House but then died in the Senate.
The 2009 resolution differs from Rep. Cohen’s 2008 resolution in that it includes a disclaimer: “Nothing in this resolution — A) authorizes or supports any claim against the United States; or B) serves as a settlement of any claim against the United States.”
Several members of the Congressional Black Caucus expressed concerns about the disclaimer, saying that it seemed to be an attempt to prevent any future claims to the U.S. government to pay reparations to the descendants of African slaves.
On Friday, in a statement recognizing Juneteenth (a day sometimes referred to as “Emancipation Day”), President Barack Obama praised the Senate-backed resolution: “African Americans helped to build our nation brick by brick and have contributed to her growth in every way, even when rights and liberties were denied to them,” Obama said, “In light of the historic unanimous vote in the United States Senate this week supporting the call for an apology for slavery and segregation, the occasion carries even more significance.”