On Tuesday evening, July 29, 2008, House Resolution 194 was passed by voice vote. This bill represents the first time the federal government has apologized for slavery or segregation.
The bill was first introduced in Congress by Congressman Steve Cohen (D) of Tennessee on February 22, 2007.
In his remarks introducing the bill, Congressman Cohen stated:
This country had an institution of slavery for 246 years and followed it with Jim Crow laws that denied people equal opportunity under the law. There was segregation in the south and other places in this country, at least through the year 1965 when civil rights laws were passed. There were separate water fountains for people, marked white and colored, there were restaurants, there were separate hotels, there were job opportunities that were not available to African-Americans. There were theaters that were segregated.
It's hard to imagine, in 2008, that such a society existed and was sanctioned by law, that the laws of the nation provided for segregation and enforced slave fugitive slave laws. In fact, the history of slavery goes not just through the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to our constitution, but as so eloquently written, just yesterday, in The Baltimore Sun in an editorial by Mr. Leonard Pitts Jr., that slavery existed up until about World War II, but it was a form of slavery where people were bought and sold for debts, it was slavery by another name. In a book called Slavery By Another Name by Douglass Blackman, a correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, when he talked about a convict leasing system in the south where in poor black men were routinely snatched up and tried on false petty or nonexistent charges by compliant courts, assessed some fine they could not afford, and then put into the servitude of an individual who bought them. This system continued up until World War II.The full text of House Resolution 194 can be found here.
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