While it is regrettable that so far only one state–Virginia–has taken any step at all toward offering an apology for slavery, there is much to applaud in the unanimous decision by the Virginia House of Delegates February 2, expressing “profound regret” for Virginia’s role in the slave trade. A similar measure also cleared a state Senate committee.
The apology is notable because, not only did Gen. Robert E. Lee, Commander of the Confederate Army, hail from Virginia, but because Richmond was even the Confederate Capitol. It is notable because the very same Virginia House once started each day with a salute that symbolized the state’s Confederate heritage.
The 91-0 House vote came for House Joint Resolution 728, a measure intended to promote racial reconciliation, as the 400th anniversary approaches, of the founding of the settlement at Jamestown, Va.
The resolution calls slavery “an immoral institution” that “ranks as the most horrendous of all depredations of human rights and violations of our founding ideals in our nation’s history.”
Sponsored by two Black Virginia Democrats, Delegate Donald McEachin and Sen. Henry Marsh III, the resolution goes on to express the General Assembly’s “profound regret for the Commonwealth’s role in sanctioning the immoral institution of human slavery, in the historic wrongs visited upon native peoples, and in all other forms of discrimination and injustice that have been rooted in racial and cultural bias and misunderstanding.”
The Virginia legislation is an example of taking one of the most difficult steps on the eight-step path to atonement. One of the hardest parts of “Confessing the Fault”–the third stage of atonement–is publicly admitting fault to those who were ill-affected by the wrongful behavior.
The contrition being expressed by the Virginia House was almost undone however, by the intemperate words of one senior Virginia lawmaker. Seventy-nine-year-old Republican Delegate Frank Hargrove drew criticism when he said today’s Virginians have no responsibility for slavery, and that “Black citizens should just get over it.”
In his own defense, Del. Hargrove told an interviewer after he was showered with condemnations for his remarks: “Are we going to force the Jews to apologize for killing Christ?”
Del. Hargrove eventually voted in favor of the apology, but not before he asked his colleagues to support his own resolution establishing an annual “Juneteenth” observance that celebrates the end of slavery. That resolution would designate the third Saturday in June as “Juneteenth Freedom Day” in Virginia. It would recognize the June 19, 1865, date on which a Union general ordered the freeing of remaining slaves in Galveston, Texas, the last vestige of slavery after the Civil War.
It goes without saying that official designations of Juneteenth as a holiday are appropriate. But Blacks do not need White authorization to recognize Juneteenth.
No. Juneteenth was declared a holiday by the slaves in Texas themselves, who–upon hearing that a Union General had read the Emancipation Proclamation in the Port of Galveston, freeing them–commenced to celebrate in the fields, walking off, leaving their tools behind.
The Virginia apology for slavery is, on its own, a step in the right direction, toward repentance, atonement and forgiveness. It should be a model for other states and for the federal government to also confess and apologize for slavery… “the most horrendous of all depredations of human rights and violations of our founding ideals in our nation’s history.”
A decade ago, the U.S. House of Representatives considered a resolution introduced by former Rep. Tony Hall (D-Ohio), offering an apology for slavery from the U.S. government. That resolution was never even offered for a vote in the House. More recently, the Senate took a tiny step down the right path, apologizing for its silence and thereby complicity with slavery.
Reparations of course, are required to complete this full process, but now Americans–government bodies, corporations, individuals–must acknowledge that slavery and genocide against the Native people were wrong, and that they confess.
The Bible says, confession is good for the soul.