Ga. Slave Ownership Could Sway Debate

Russ Bynum, AP, April 7, 2007

As state lawmakers debate issuing an official apology for slavery similar to those passed by the Virginia Legislature and the North Carolina Senate, an Associated Press review of 19th-century records kept by the Digital Library of Georgia at the University of Georgia shows the state’s role went beyond regulating and taxing slave owners. Georgia bought and sold slaves as well.

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“Some resist expressing any sort of apology because they or their family weren’t involved,” said Johnson, the Senate’s president pro-tem. “If the state actually did buy and sell and own slaves, that may make it more comfortable for people in the state to express regret over slavery.”

Needing workers to build roads and improve river transportation in 1829, Georgia lawmakers authorized spending $50,000 to buy a state-owned labor force of 190 “able bodied” slaves.

The Legislature’s foray into government slaveholding, at least on a large scale, proved short lived. By 1834, the state sold its slavesalong with horses, mules, wagons and toolsfor $117,464.

State Rep. Tyrone Brooks, an Atlanta Democrat who heads the Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials, said the state’s slave-owning history “makes a huge difference” in the apology debate.

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Some state Republican leaders have expressed skepticism recently about issuing an apology.

“People shouldn’t be held responsible for the sins of their fathers,” state Senate majority leader Tommie Williams said last month. He declined to be interviewed Friday, referring calls to Johnson.

State House Speaker Glen Richardson said last month he was “not sure what we ought to be apologizing for.” His office said Friday he was vacationing and unavailable for comment.

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The Virginia Legislature and the North Carolina Senate have both approved statements expressing regret for their role in slavery. The North Carolina House of Representatives still must approve the measure there.

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