Slavery apology has disclaimer

The Senate passed a resolution Thursday calling on the U.S. to apologize officially for the enslavement and segregation of millions of African-Americans and to acknowledge “the fundamental injustice, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery and Jim Crow laws.”

The resolution, sponsored with little fanfare by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, passed on a voice vote. It now moves to the House of Representatives, where it may meet an unlikely foe: members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Several CBC members expressed concerns Thursday about a disclaimer that states that “nothing in this resolution authorizes or supports any claim against the United States; or serves as a settlement of any claim against the United States.”

The CBC members think that the disclaimer is an attempt to stave off reparations claims from the descendants of slaves. Congressional Black Caucus chair Barbara Lee, D-Calif., said her organization is studying the language of Harkin’s resolution.

Other CBC members said they’ve read it and don’t like it.

“Putting in a disclaimer takes away from the meaning of an apology,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss. “A number of us are prepared to vote against it in its present form. There are several members of the Progressive Caucus who feel the same way.”

Thompson and other CBC members noted that a 1988 apology the government issued to Japanese-Americans held in U.S. camps during World War II had no disclaimer and didn’t prevent them from receiving compensation.

William Douglas