Slavery played a central role in the history of the United States. It existed in all the English mainland colonies and came to dominate agricultural production in the states from Maryland south. Eight of the first 12 presidents of the United States were slave owners. Debate over slavery increasingly dominated American politics, leading eventually to the American Civil War (1861-1865), which finally brought slavery to an end. After emancipation, overcoming slavery’s legacy remained a crucial issue in American history, from Reconstruction following the war to the civil rights movement almost a hundred years later.
22) A bill has recently been proposed, by a white Ohio congressman to apologize for slavery. That congressman is Representative Tony Hall. Hall resolves “That the congress apologizes to African-Americans whose ancestors suffered as slaves under the constitution of the United States of America until 1865 (“Should the Government” 8). The United States government should not issue an apology to African-Americans for slavery.
An apology by the government for slavery would not heal the damage caused by two hundred forty four years of slavery. Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. Says. “… a simple apology, without anything attached to it seems a little empty to me” (“Should the Government” 9). There should be some type of reparation payments. If not monetary at least the forty acres and a mule which was promised to the slaves for participating in the Civil War. “A government apology for slavery is a valid collective act, but it is valid only if it is accompanied by substance that repairs the damage that is the basis for the apology” (“Should the Government” 9). In order for any type of reparation payments to be given the country would have to approve it. Most people do not approve reparation payments to blacks for slavery. A nightline ABC poll shows that seventy-seven percent of all Americans oppose reparations. Blacks favor reparations. Sixty-five percent of blacks support reparation payments to blacks for slavery. Most white people do not see it as being a good idea. Eighty-eight percent of whites oppose the idea of reparation payments (‘Should the Government?.” 10)
The governments’ apology would not be a direct interpretation of the feelings of America as a whole. Fifty-six percent of Americans oppose the idea of the government apologizing for slavery (Should the Government?.” 8) The government and people of today had no control over what went on between 1619 and 1863. The government should not apologize for someone else’s actions. When the United States apologized and gave reparation payments to the Japanese-Americans who were sent to concentration camps, the were not only directly involved but responsible for what happened (White). It is one thing to apologize for the sins of your own group, but it is quite another to speak in the name of people who feel no such involvement in your own sins.
It seems as if the government is apologizing because they feel that they have to or because they apologized for everything else. Apologizing “has an absurd, ritualistic and empty quality to it” (Leo). An apology to African-Americans would kick off a list of more groups
wanting apologies. “The cycle of apologies would have to include the ancient Egyptians and Greeks and Muslims in Africa today”(Leo).
The question is what would help heal the wounds caused by slavery. The answer is monetary reparations would help ease the pain. J.E. White has outlined the perfect way for these payments to be calculated. The first slaves came to the United States in 1619, and the emancipation proclamation in 1863. That is 244 years of free labor given to slave owners by approximately ten million slaves. Multiplied by twenty-five cents a day, the going rate for unskilled labor back then, amounts to two hundred twenty two billion dollars. Another two hundred twenty two billion dollars added for pain and suffering; at three percent interest compound over the one hundred thirty four years since emancipation and that gives you twenty-four trillion dollars (White).
An apology could be dangerous. Accepting an “empty” apology from the United States could make it seem as if this is the end of the issue slavery. “The danger of an apology for slavery is that it may become the benediction, instead of the opening hymn!”(Should the Government?.” 10). Black people must hand this kind of apology back. Instead of worrying about an apology for something that happened in the past one should look forward. “I think we should be looking to the future thinking about things we need to do to work together.” (“Apologia pua Amnesia”) Accepting an apology could widen the gap between blacks and whites being seen equal by everyone. “The gesture could direct attention away from our ability to close the gap between whites and African-Americans with real structure and investment.”(Marino 12). Even though reparations would help, no apology or reparation would make up for those two hundred forty four years of blood, sweat, and tears shed by over ten million slaves.
“Apologia qua amnesia.” The Nation 10 July 1997: 10.
Leo, J. “So Who’s Sorry Now?” U.S. News & World Report 30 June 1997: 17.
Marino, G. “Apologize for Slavery?” Commonweal 13 Feb. 1998: 11-14.
Mazrui, A.A. “Who Should Pay for Slavery?” World Press Review August 1993: 22-23.
“Should the Government Apologize for Slavery?” Jet 14 July 1997: 8-10.
White, J.E. “Sorry isn’t Good Enough.” Time 30 June 1997: 35.