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An Apology For Slavery: Missouri’s Proposal

February 15, 2007

About a week ago the Columbia (MO) Daily Tribune picked up an AP story on the possibility of the State of Missouri apologizing for its former slave holders. Here are some excerpts from the piece:

– “The state would formally apologize for permitting more than 140 years of slavery under a proposal that would make Missouri one of the first in the country to make such a move. The resolution, which details the history of Missouri slavery, says that ‘an apology for centuries of brutal dehumanization and injustices cannot ease the past, but confession of the wrongs can speed racial healing and reconciliation.’ “
– “Rep. Talibdin El-Amin said Missouri should be one of the first states to apologize for slavery because the Dred Scott case, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that black people in the United States cannot sue, originated in Missouri. ‘That case set a legal precedent, and I’m looking for Missouri to set another precedent and be one of the first states to apologize for slavery,’ El-Amin, D-St. Louis, said yesterday. Missouri Supreme Court Justice Michael Wolff mentioned the Dred Scott case specifically last month in his annual address to lawmakers, calling it an ‘infamous’ example of judges responding to politics rather than the law.”
– “Slavery first came to Missouri in 1720 when Philippe Francois Renault brought 500 slaves to work in lead mines in the Des Peres River in St. Louis and Jefferson counties.”
– “Missouri entered the union as a slave state as part of the 1820 Missouri Compromise, in which Maine became a free state at the same time. The decision set the stage for a violent rivalry with Kansas, a free state. By 1860, there were more than 1,000 slaves in 36 counties. In the Civil War, Missouri units fought for both the Union and the Confederacy.”
– “State and federal governments, with few exceptions, have not apologized for official actions of the government. The federal government has officially apologized for the internment of Japanese-Americans in camps throughout the American West during World War II.”

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As a former Missouri citizen, this is intriguing – profound even. I recall a legacy of racism in some areas of the state, and I have little doubt the legacy lives. For instance, as sad as this is to admit, I come from a caucasian family where racist views were held by members on both my mother and father’s sides. Although I have thoroughly rejected and repudiated their views, sometimes in tense face-to-face instances, both sides had been in Missouri at least two generations before I was born. Their views most certainly arose in the context of learned tradition. I suspect other Missourians, were they brave enough to admit it, have had experiences similar to mine. If the State of Missouri issues an apology, it would present another opportunity for its citizens to clear the air, to break down negative traditions. I hope Rep. Talibdin El-Amin’s resolution is passed. – TL

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