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THE NATION

Formal slavery apologies debated

As the movement to express regret grows, some say the measures would be cathartic; others call them useless.

March 19, 2007|Jenny Jarvie | Times Staff Writer

"I don't want or need an apology for slavery," wrote Lyle V. Harris, an African American editorial writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, who suggested that the NAACP should instead focus on ensuring that blacks have full access to the ballot box.

Opinions within the black community about the usefulness of such apologies have tended to divide along age and ideological lines, said William Boone, a political scientist at the historically black Clark Atlanta University. They have resonated more with the older generation, he said, than younger or more conservative, affluent African Americans.

"I'm not sure the average guy who works from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. is thinking about this," he said.

Timing is questioned

Many question why the calls for official contrition are coming now.

While the Virginia apology was introduced to coincide with the state's observation of the 400th anniversary of the Jamestown settlement, historians and political analysts say it has been picked up by African American legislators and civil rights activists because they now find themselves struggling to maintain their relevance.

The NAACP, the nation's oldest civil rights group, is currently debating its mission. This month, its president, Bruce S. Gordon, resigned unexpectedly after ongoing disagreement with the board over whether the traditional social justice advocacy organization should offer social services.

Still, those who call for an apology argue that the discussion of historical discrimination against African Americans is deeply connected to present-day inequality.

"How can you understand the disparity around us without understanding the reasons for it?" DuBose asked.

After an apology, he said, the next logical step could be reparations for slave descendants. Until now, critics have denounced resolutions as a step toward financial settlements, and many legislators have taken pains to insist they are only symbolic.

"We will ask how did slavery and the Jim Crow era affect education when African Americans are still suffering in education and how did it affect black farmers who had land taken from them?" DuBose said.

"To what extent are African Americans still second-class citizens?"

jenny.jarvie@latimes.com

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