Mar 6, 2007

Virginia passes bill apologizing for slavery

by Amy Field, Asst. News Editor
Four hundred years after slavery was first introduced in the establishment of Jamestown, Va., the Commonwealth’s legislation issued an apology for the part it played in the history of slavery. Proposed on Feb. 24, the resolution’s purpose was to express “profound regret” for the “involuntary servitude of Africans and the exploitation of Native Americans.” It emphasized a need for unity of the citizens of Virginia in order to eradicate racism. The resolution is one of the most recent steps taken in the fight against racism.

Richmond’s first African-American mayor, Sen. Henry L. Marsh III, (D-Richmond) and Delegate A. Donald McEachin III (D-Henrico) sponsored the identical resolutions SJ 332 and HJ 728 in early February.

Their premise was to recognize “the contributions of Native Americans and African Americans to the Common-wealth and this nation.” The proposal passed unanimously in the House, 96 to 0, as well as in the Senate.

Lila Tuck, a former Liberty student, was in favor of the passing of the bill and the acknowledgement of any wrongdoings.

“I think people whose ancestors were affected by slavery will appreciate it,” she said. “At least with this bill, someone is stepping up to the plate and saying (slavery) was a bad idea.” Tuck said it was  going in the right direction in the movement against racism.
Professor Kenny Rowlette, Co-Director of The Liberty University Civil War Institute, commented as well.

“We have already apologized to the Japanese who were interned during World War II,” he said.

“I think (this bill is) the right thing to do under any circumstances,” Rowlette said.

Because of his involvement in battle reenactments, Rowlette knows many people who are apart of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War and the Sons of Confederate Veterans organizations.
“No one that I know personally in these organizations has said that slavery was a good idea,” said Rowlette.

Virginia has had a history full of race-related issues. The first African slaves arrived in the New World in 1619, beginning the first slave market in Jamestown. The state at one time had one of the largest communities of slaves in the country, according to a report by the Washington Post.

As the years continued, Virginia’s main agricultural product, tobacco, required a large amount of intense manual labor. While the production of tobacco kept the Virginian economy running, slavery soon became the crutch of the tobacco industry.

Soon the Deep South’s cotton surpassed Virginia’s tobacco as the demanded product of the South and the commonwealth turned to mainly exporting slaves in order to maintain its economy. According to the Virginia Historical Society, the slave-trading business in Richmond “was second only to New Orleans.”

Other research by the VHS found that a minimum of 300,000 slaves passed through the capital of Virginia from around 1830 to the Civil War’s end.

Owning slaves was outlawed in the late 1800s, after the War Between the States.
Despite the great lengths taken by many individuals to completely eradicate the effects of slavery, racism simply morphed into different forms.

The Ku Klux Klan and the 1924 Racial Integrity Act both served to limit African-Americans and label them as less than human.

Segregation between races controlled schools and drinking fountains. Throughout the first half of the 20th century, it was not uncommon to find three separate bathrooms with the signs “Women,” “Men” and “Colored,” for any person who was not Caucasian.    A turning point in Virginia’s racial relations came when President Harry S. Truman desegregated the military in 1949.

This was followed in 1954 with  Brown v. Board of Education. The Supreme Court ruled that no schools segregated by law would be allowed to operate. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 brought the separate restrooms, drinking fountains, doors, schools and restaurants to an end. This kind of progress in racial relations is the effect Marsh and McEachin’s intended their bill to render.
“Anything we can do to draw us closer together as a nation is something we need to do,” said Rowlette.

“We can honor Robert E. Lee and honor all of the soldiers and honor Abraham Lincoln.”

Contact Amy Field at afield@liberty.edu.

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