Virginia moved forward on Wednesday to apologize for slavery, something no president or legislature has done.
The Virginia House Rules Committee unanimously approved a measure that expresses “profound regret” for the state’s role in the slave trade and other injustices against African-Americans and Native Americans.
The original proposal by Del. Donald McEachin, a Democrat, called for “atonement.”
“This is a good first step,” says McEachin, whose great-grandfather Archie was a slave.
He says the wording was changed because some lawmakers said an apology could lead to reparations, or cash payments, to slave descendants.
A proposal in the state Senate expressing “profound contrition” won unanimous approval from a subcommittee Monday.
House Speaker William Howell expects both chambers to pass the measure, says his spokesman, G. Paul Nardo. The legislature is scheduled to adjourn Feb. 24.
An apology alone does not heal wounds, says Bruce Gordon, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He says it’s important to recognize past wrongs, but it’s more essential to fix lingering racial inequities.
The Virginia effort to apologize for slavery stirred controversy last month. Del. Frank Hargrove Sr., a white Republican, told The Daily Progress in Charlottesville that blacks “should get over” slavery instead of seeking a formal apology from the state.
Hargrove voted for the revised measure because, he said, it expresses regret “without apologizing for anything.”
The Virginia Legislature expressed “profound regret” in 2001 for its role in eugenics, a discredited science that led to the sterilization of more than 7,000 Virginians in the name of purifying the white race between 1924 and 1979.