By Daniel Zarchy
Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery in 1863 with the Emancipation Proclamation, and 144 years later, the Virginia legislature is trying to echo those sentiments by expressing its own regrets.
The apology for slavery, officially passed through the Virginia state legislature last Sunday, came on the 400-year anniversary of the settlement of the historic colonial settlement in Jamestown, VA.
Domestically, the apology has garnered mixed reviews from the black community.
Reverend Jesse Lee Peterson, founder of the Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny (BOND), an African-American group which aims to “Rebuild the Family by Rebuilding the Man,” feels strongly that this apology was a step in the wrong direction.
“It was ridiculous, unnecessary, and they’re going to regret that they did that, and it’s not going to solve any problems in the black community,” Peterson said. “It’s going to open up the doors even more so for this reparation movement. Reparations are one of the worst things that could happen to us in this country.”
The apology is the first of its kind in the United States and comes after a long history of debate over the appropriateness of an admission of guilt for acts carried out over a century ago.
Former president Bill Clinton and President George W. Bush came close to apologizing for slavery during their respective presidential trips to Africa, officially condemning the slave trade but falling short of a literal apology.
The European Union has also proposed a formal apology for race-based slavery in 2001, but it did not pass.
Project 21, The National Leadership Network of Black Conservatives, holds the belief that black Americans should take responsibility for their own lives, and that an apology or reparations may provide a crutch for blacks to lean on instead of taking personal responsibility.
“Blacks will always have the opportunity to say that it’s because they’re black. They will always have the opportunity to blame someone other than themselves,” said Mychal Massie, chairman of Project 21. “It is time to stop living in the past and start embracing the opportunities of today and the future.”
In addition, Massie emphasized that slavery was not illegal at the time, and that those who owned slaves were not breaking the law.
“America did not invent slavery,” Massie said. “America had the good sense to abolish slavery, even as it continues in other places in the world. We can abhor the immorality of whites owning blacks, but no laws were broken.”
Sequilla Lee, a member of the African/Black Student Alliance (A/BSA) at UC Santa Cruz, felt that the worst part about the apology was simply that it took so long for Americans to admit to the horrors of slavery.
“I think that the apology is not valid.There have been a number of things that say that the African-American community should get over slavery, and I think this is one of those things,” Lee said. “I’m not saying that people should get over, or forget the past, but that we should take steps forward. To blame someone else is not the positive way to spread the history.”