Posted on March 27, 2007

Missouri: Another Proposal To Apologize For Slavery

Missouri House of Representatives


House Concurrent Resolution No. 26



Whereas, in 1720, Philippe Francois Renault introduced Negro slavery to Missouri when he brought 500 Negroes with him from Santa Domingo to work the lead mines in the Des Peres River section of what is now St. Louis and Jefferson Counties; and

Whereas, the Missouri Compromise of 1820 resulted in Missouri being admitted as a slave state in exchange for approving the application for statehood of Maine as a free state in order to resolve a dispute involving the ban on slavery in territories north of the Ohio River enacted in 1787. Under the Missouri Compromise, slavery would be allowed in Missouri, but slavery would no longer be allowed for any future requests for statehood north of the what would become known as the Mason-Dixon Line; and

Whereas, in 1860, 36 counties in Missouri had 1,000 or more slaves. To keep the Blacks “in their place”, a series of laws, known as slave codes, were drawn up. Under the territorial slave code of 1804, slaves were made personal property, and each revision of the law was drafted with this precedent in mind. The State Constitution of 1820, for example, provided that slaves were not to be emancipated “without the consent of their masters, or without paying them, before such emancipation”; and

Whereas, a slave was not permitted to keep a gun in Missouri. If he was caught carrying a gun, he was to receive 39 slashes and forfeit the gun. Slaves who participated in riots, attended unlawful assemblies, or who were guilty of making seditious speeches, were subject to whipping. Slaves guilty of conspiracy, rebellion, insurrection, and murder were put to death; and

Whereas, other laws further dehumanized the Blacks. Negroes or mulattoes “who should commit or attempt to commit assault upon White women would be mutilated.” However, since a slave woman was chattel, a White man who raped her was only guilty of trespass on the master’s property; and

Whereas, in 1825, a law was passed declaring Blacks to be incompetent as witnesses in legal cases involving whites; and

Whereas, in 1847, one of the harshest laws which further dehumanized the slave was enacted. In that year, an ordinance specifically prohibited the education of Negroes was passed. Anyone operating a school or teaching reading and writing to any Negro or mulatto in Missouri could be punished by a fine of not less than $500 and up to six months in jail. This law was a direct result of an ever increasing conviction on the part of slave holders that literacy led to rebellion; and

Whereas, even in death the races were generally separated. Usually there were “white” and “colored” cemeteries in every area of the State; and

Whereas, throughout the slavery period in Missouri there were persons, Black and White, who advocated the abolition of slavery both locally and nationally. These abolitionists were a hated group in a slaveholding state because they threatened the continued existence of an institution which provided for cheap labor. Because of their deep animosity toward persons who challenged their way of life, pro-slavery forces generally dealt severely with abolitionists; and

Whereas, discrimination followed the Negroes into the Army during the Civil War. Negroes, like Whites, were promised a bounty but not until the war was over did they receive it. While White soldiers received $13 a month, Negro soldiers were given $10 a month. Blacks were given inferior weapons and materials, inadequate medical care, and if captured, were killed until Lincoln and Grant threatened to treat captured Confederate soldiers in a similar manner; and

Whereas, in 1943, the Missouri Legislature killed a civil rights bill that would have given Blacks equal access to public places, such as restaurants and theaters; and

Whereas, in July 2003, President George W. Bush, at his visit to Goree Island (Senegal), acknowledged slavery in America as the largest migration in history, and also one of the greatest crimes of history; and

Whereas, in his State of the Judiciary address delivered to the First Regular Session of the 94th General Assembly, Missouri Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Wolff acknowledged the Dred Scott decision as one of the greatest blemishes on judicial history; and

Whereas, in the Dred Scott case, Dred Scott, a slave who had lived in the free state of Illinois and the free territory of Wisconsin before moving back to the slave state of Missouri, had appealed to the Supreme Court in hopes of being granted his freedom. In March of 1857, the United States Supreme Court declared that all blacks—slave as well as free—were not and could never become citizens of the United States. Since Scott was not a citizen, he had no right to sue; and

Whereas, European and African nations have apologized for their roles in what history calls the worst holocaust of humankind, the Atlantic Slave Trade, and racial reconciliation is impossible without some acknowledgment of the moral and legal injustices perpetrated upon African Americans; and

Whereas, an apology for centuries of brutal dehumanization and injustices cannot erase the past, but confession of the wrongs can speed racial healing and reconciliation and help African Americans and white citizens confront the ghosts of their collective pasts together; and

Whereas, the story of the enslavement of Africans and their descendants, the human carnage, and the dehumanizing atrocities committed during slavery should not be purged from Missouri’s history or discounted; moreover, the faith, perseverance, hope, and endless triumphs of African Americans and their significant contributions to the development of this State and the nation should be embraced, celebrated, and retold for generations to come; and

Whereas, the perpetual pain, distrust, and bitterness of many African Americans could be assuaged and the principles espoused by the Founding Fathers would be affirmed, and great strides toward unifying all Missourians and inspiring the nation to acquiesce might be accomplished if the State of Missouri acknowledged and atoned for its role in the slavery of Africans:

Now, therefore, be it resolved that the members of the House of Representatives of the Ninety-fourth General Assembly, First Regular Session, the Senate concurring therein, hereby formally apologize for the State of Missouri’s role in slavery.