Slavery apology OKd by Delaware legislative panel

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Rep. Stephanie Bolden (D-Wilmington) discusses the proposed resolution in which the state of Delaware would formally apologize for slavery and express its “profound regret” during a meeting Wednesday of the House Administration Committee at Legislative Hall. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

DOVER — A House committee unanimously approved a resolution that formally apologizes for slavery Wednesday, sending it to the chamber floor for a vote.

Gov. Jack Markell announced last month he would support a proposal that would have Delaware officially acknowledge and apologize for its role in slavery.

“For generations, our country denied and actively contested a basic fact of humanity: that nothing about the color of one’s skin affects that person’s innate rights to freedom and dignity,” Gov. Markell, a Democrat, said in a December statement. “We must publicly and candidly acknowledge the lasting damage of past sins — damage that continues to reverberate more than 150 years after the abolition of slavery.”

President Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, abolished slavery in 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.

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House Minority Leader Daniel B. Short (R-Seaford) suggests the bill should also include Native Americans.

Delaware initially rejected the 13th Amendment.

In November, Gov. Markell referred to slavery as America’s “original sin” when he posthumously pardoned a black man sentenced in 1847 for helping slaves escape.

House Joint Resolution 10, discussed last year and introduced last week, is supported by 18 lawmakers, all Democrats.

The proposal is intended as a tool to help with healing, not as a piece of evidence in future litigation, main sponsor Rep. Stephanie Bolden, D-Wilmington, claimed.

The resolution promotes “the love and respect of each and every culture, regardless of religion, of race or creed.”

On Wednesday, Rep. Bolden, who is black, referred to personal experiences of discrimination she experienced, such as businesses granting service only to whites, and cited recent movements such as Black Lives Matter as evidence of the racial divide in the United States.

The apology can help play a role, however small, in remedying that divide, its supporters insist.

“It is not anything that is detrimental to anyone but it shows the expression of love and unity, especially in the First State, which was one of the last states to abolish,” Rep. Bolden said.

According to the resolution, eight of the 18 states that had slaves at the start of the Civil War in 1861 have apologized for slavery, including Maryland and Virginia. The city of Dover formally apologized for slavery in 2010.

Rep. Daniel Short, R-Seaford, proposed an amendment that would add language apologizing for the state’s treatment of Native Americans. The amendment could be discussed on the House floor today.

But Rep. Bolden said she is not in favor of the proposed change, believing it does not directly cover the intent of the

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Central Delaware NAACP president LaMar Gunn grimaces as he listens to the discussion inside the House Administration Committee meeting discussing whether Rep. Bolden’s slavery apology bill should leave committee.

resolution, which does note Native Americans were also enslaved in the 1600s.

Some civil rights activists were in the room Wednesday to support the apology.

Jack Guerin, a member of the Coalition to Dismantle the New Jim Crow, a Delaware group that says its mission is to combat mass incarceration, said Americans cannot start confronting racism until they acknowledge it.

So-called “Jim Crow” laws which denied African-Americans basic rights, largely in the Democratic-dominated Southern states in decades following the Civil War, were not uniformally abolished until after the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“There has never been any official recognition that something is wrong with our racist history or that our ancestors could have made better choices,” Mr. Guerin said. “This is the elephant in the American living room.”

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