Markell signs resolution apologizing for slavery

DOVER— It was a day of celebration, reconciliation and healing, as Gov. Jack Markell signed a resolution apologizing for the state’s role in slavery.

Gov. Markell was joined by community and General Assembly members as well as Delaware State University President Harry L. Williams and Delaware State Archivist Stephen M. Marz at the Delaware Public Archives in Dover Wednesday morning.

The signing coincided with the 125th anniversary of Delaware State University and African American history month.

“We affirm that we refuse to forget our past,” Gov. Markell said. “We accept the responsibility of tearing down the barriers that faced so many of our neighbors as result of abhorrent laws and practices carried out against African-Americans.”

“But we also assume this responsibility with enthusiasm, because we know what’s possible when we give more of our people the chance to make the most of their talents.,” Gov. Markell added. “We know that every step we take toward equality of opportunity brings us closer to the society we dream of for us and for our children.”

Gov. Markell signed House Joint Resolution 10, which was sponsored by Rep. Stephanie T. Bolden (D-Wilmington East) and Senate Majority Whip Margaret Rose Henry (D-Wilmington East)

The resolution passed overwhelmingly in the General Assembly in January.

President Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, abolished slavery in the states in rebellion against the federal government with his Emancipation Proclamation, which took effect on Jan. 1, 1863.

However, slavery wasn’t formally abolished in Delaware — a “border state” loyal to the Union during the Civil War — until the Republican-dominated Congress and three-fourths of the states approved the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1865.

Delaware initially rejected the 13th Amendment.

According to the resolution, eight of the 18 states that had slaves at the start of the Civil War in 1861 have formally apologized for slavery, including Maryland and Virginia.

The city of Dover formally apologized for slavery in 2010.

Delaware’s Human Relations Commission in late November voted to urge the governor and state lawmakers to issue the apology.

Gov. Markell supported the legislation.

Last month he posthumously pardoned Samuel D. Burris, a Delaware abolitionist who was convicted 168 years ago of helping slaves escape to freedom via the Underground Railroad.

Burris, who was at the time a free black man, was sentenced to 10 months in prison.

“We are grateful for the sponsors and the will of everyone who voted in favor of the resolution,” said Rev. Rita Mishoe Paige of Star Hill A.M.E. Church.

“Slavery was an injustice where Africans and African Americans were dehumanized and considered property and used for economic gain, physical labor and stripped of their rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

“It moves us towards healing and correcting injustice,” Rev. Paige added.

An exhibit commemorating the 125th anniversary of Delaware State University was unveiled after the ceremony as well.

“Understanding and celebrating African American history is too large and too important for one month,” Mr. Marz said.

“African American history is a celebration of work being done every day, month and year, as we uncover and share African American heritage.”

Dr. Williams shared the same sentiment.

“I am so excited that I’m alive to tell the story about how our state, the First State, made a statement, and that statement was that we believe in justice and doing what is right,” Dr. Williams said.

Gov. Markell said it’s far from being the last step to ensure equality.

“The signing of this resolution is an important symbol, but in it of itself it’s not going to give these children more opportunities,” Gov. Markell said.

“The question is what is the kind of work that we will all do together to continue to invest in this generation to make sure they all receive their potential?”

“We can celebrate the fact that the state has taken this important step, Gov. Markall added.

“But what’s more important is what type of celebration we can have five or ten years looking back on the tangible steps that were taken to make sure that all of our people can achieve their real potential.”

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