Today is Juneteenth! And it's official in Massachusetts. According to this article, Governor Deval Patrick signed a proclamation that makes June 19th, Juneteenth Independence Day, which commemorates the day in 1865, when the last slaves learned that they were free.
Also in Massachusetts, this piece of legislation, HB 3239, was proposed by Representative Byron Rushing which would make the history of slavery relevant to the awarding of certain contracts. You can read the full text of the bill here.
The bill reads in part:
"The Secretary, state agency or state authority shall require that any company that enters into a contract with the Commonwealth, whether the contract is subject to competitive bidding or not, shall complete an affidavit, prior to or contemporaneous with entering into the contract, certifying that:—
A.) The company has searched any and all records of the company or majority-owned subsidiary and any predecessor company or its majority-owned subsidiary regarding records of participation or investments in, or profits derived, from slavery, including slaveholder insurance policies issued during the slavery era; and
B.) The company has disclosed any and all records of participation in or profits derived by the company or majority-owned subsidiary and any predecessor company or its majority-owned subsidiary from slavery, including issuance of slaveholder insurance policies, during the slavery era, and identified names of any enslaved
persons or slaveholders described in the records. The Secretary, state agency, or state authority may terminate the contract if a company fails to fully and accurately complete the affidavit."
I'm not sure if this legislation has much support or chance at becoming law, but I'm really glad that Rep. Rushing put it out there. During law school, my contracts professor, David Hall, used slave contracts as some of the contracts that we studied. When you see these contracts, it really brings it home. I don't know if many people really understand or think about the business and economic aspect of slavery. In these readings, people were the property being transferred by a contract or the property that was the subject of a dispute in court.
A few years ago, I was talking to someone about how we both were researching our family trees. I was saying that I had reached an impasse and needed more information. He said something referring to my need to look for wills, because that often gave information. However, from the context in which he made the statement, it was clear to me that he did not understand that my ancestors would probably not be listed by name, but instead as the property being transferred.
I went on Ancestry.com and looked up the 1860 slave schedules in Virginia, where my maternal ancestors were enslaved. Here is a sample of what I found. The slave owner is the same for everyone. James H. Hathaway had a lot of slaves.
Age Gender Race Name of Slave Owner
80 Male Black James H Hathaway
75 Female Black " "
45 Female Mulatto " "
6 Male Mulatto " "
6 Female Black " "
1 Male Black " "
When I first saw these listings of people who could be my ancestors, I was infuriated, nauseous, and hurt all at the same time. There are no names. And there were old people and babies. The lives of misery and pain that they endured I cannot even imagine, but we survived. I'm here.
I've noticed some other interesting changes over the past year regarding the question of whether states should apologize for slavery. In fact, in early April of this year, CNN online had a poll posing that very question. At the time I read the poll, approximately 111,000 people had voted. 23% said that states should apologize and a whopping 77% said that states should not apologize. Those numbers shocked me. Maybe I'm too optimistic.
I'm very curious and have posted my own poll on the right sidebar. I tried to put it in this post, but it wouldn't work, so it will be up for several hours before this post. I hope that everyone who reads this post will vote, even if you don't comment or come here regularly, or if you've never visited before now.
An article in Time Magazine online discusses the issue. Here is an excerpt.
"Many non-blacks assert that they shouldn't apologize for something they didn't do. There is logic to that thinking: if you didn't own slaves or enable others to own slaves, you aren't culpable. But the U.S. didn't do a very good job of converting its former slaves to full-fledged citizens. Slavery gave way to Jim Crow, lynchings, poll taxes, redlining and educational and job discrimination. Although illegal now, these tools perpetuated a racial hierarchy that affects every American today, no matter how subtly. Just compare any rates of achievement, poverty, imprisonment by race; blacks are nowhere closing to catching up."
And to give you more context, I was born in 1964,as in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. I was born towards the end of the year. I'm one of the first generations of African-Americans to be born with full civil rights. My grandmother's grandmother was a slave. When you look at slavery from the perspective of generations and real people, it was not that long ago.
Slavery was and still is wrong. The enslavement of African-Americans went on for centuries and was the backbone of the American economy. The profits that slavery yielded endure to this day. Even though it is only symbolic, it means something for the legislatures of each state to own up to this. It is very telling when a state will not do it. What is the problem that legislators cannot even say that the state, not them personally, but that the state now believes that the institution of slavery was wrong and apologizes for its role?
From what I've read, Maryland, Virginia, Alabama, and North Carolina have all recently apologized for slavery. And according to this article, today New York's legislature is set to approve legislation that will make it the first northern state to apologize for its role in slavery.
I think the legislatures in all states involved should apologize as well as a big apology from the federal government. I don't know that it will do anything, but it certainly is a step in the right direction. Isn't apologizing for what we do wrong something that we learn as little kids? But the big apology still seems to be a long way off, since this press release shows that President Bush does not even acknowledge Juneteenth. Here is an excerpt.
"President George W. Bush has been urged by Congress to recognize Juneteenth Independence Day by issuing a special Presidential Proclamation. President Bush, who has declined participation in the annual WASHINGTON JUNETEENTH National Holiday Observance since taking office in 2000, has perplexed national Juneteenth leaders by the lack of personal public acknowledgement and comment on Juneteenth, considered America's second Independence Day."
I'd be remiss not to mention reparations, but that indeed is related to an apology for slavery. And the issue of reparations may be the real reason that many states and the federal government do not want to apologize. Money. Governments do not want to pay reparations to the descendants of slaves in America. For those of you who want to learn more about reparations, here is an interesting article. I also recommend the book The Debt, by Randall Robinson.
Anali's First Amendment © 2006-2007. All rights reserved.
Print this post