04/08/07 — Legislators explain Senate's vote on slavery apology

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Legislators explain Senate's vote on slavery apology

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on April 8, 2007 2:01 AM

It wasn't an apology born out of guilt, Wayne County members of the General Assembly said, nor was it an apology made under duress. Rather, they said, Thursday's Senate apology for slavery and segregation was made because it was the right thing to do.

"I think this was a pretty symbolic recognition," state Sen. John Kerr, D-Wayne, said. "We had a very powerful extended discussion about people's experiences.

"Now it's time to try and get this chapter in our history over with and move on and be positive."

He was joined by the other 45 members of the Senate in attendance Thursday -- including Fred Smith, R-Wayne -- in approving the bill, which expresses the "profound regret of the North Carolina General Assembly for the history of wrongs inflicted upon black citizens by means of slavery exploitation and legalized racial segregation and calling on all citizens to take part in acts of racial reconciliation."

It will now go before the House.

It outlines the history of slavery in the state and the country, as well as the Jim Crow laws following slavery that restricted blacks' freedoms, while also celebrating the achievements of blacks since that time in the fields of education and business.

It also calls on the entire state to recommit itself to the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the idea that "all persons are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights."

State Rep. Louis Pate, R-Wayne, said that he expects the Senate bill to be approved by the House, despite legislators having their own version already in committee.

"I think it will be considered and I think it will go forward," he said. "I think everybody recognizes that some bad things happened in the past and while I can't apologize for individual actions from several generations ago, as far as what the state government did, I think the state should own up to and acknowledge that it took some actions in the past that were offensive."

And that, Rep. Larry Bell, D-Sampson, said is something that has been a long time coming.

"I've been through a whole lot of things because of my race and to hear somebody say they want to apologize for what happened in the past is a step in the right direction," Bell, who is black, said. "It's late, but it's better late than never.

"Of course, it's unfortunate we have to even be doing this."

The next step is to continue helping blacks overcome the burdens slavery put on them, he added.

"I think sometimes we forget about what happened to black people in the past," he said. "We need to concentrate on things we can do now. We've had divisions in this country for years and I think that even today, as we try to have a so-called integrated society, we still find the vestiges of (segregation) hanging on.

"It takes a long time to get away from that."

He emphasized, though, that he's not talking about reparations or giving anything away, but rather tackling today's social problems that affect blacks, as well as others -- poverty, a lack of education, crime, a lack of good housing and fair pay.

"We've had to overcome a lot," Bell said. "To come up now and say that things are OK and we have a level playing field, that is a misnomer.

"The playing field is not level. We've come a long ways, but we still have a long ways to go and I think people need to realize that.

"I just hope this will make some people think about that."