Bipartisan effort in Congress to make 'official apology' to blacks, native peoples
Mike Sheehan
Published: Tuesday March 6, 2007
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A bipartisan effort is underway that could amount to "two of the most sweeping apologies in American history," website The Politico is reporting.

Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS), a Republican candidate for president, and Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN), have introduced legislation apologizing to America's native peoples and African-Americans, respectively, writes John Bresnahan for The Politico.

While similar bills have in the past come to naught in Congress, what makes this particular effort notable is the new spotlight on Brownback as a 2008 contender for the GOP nomination.

"Neither resolution is binding," says Bresnahan, "and neither would require the United States to offer reparations to those wronged, although they would be powerful statements if adopted by either the House or the Senate."

Brownback, Bresnahan notes, unsuccessfully offered the American Indian resolution twice before. Co-sponsoring his current effort are Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Chris Dodd (D-CT), Daniel Inouye (D-HI) and Mary L. Landrieu (D-LA).

"Brownback's resolution opens with declarations that American Indians 'have for millennia honored, protected and stewarded this land we cherish' and that, with the coming of European settlers and the creation of the United States in the late 1700s, 'Indian tribes provided great assistance to the fledgling republic as it strengthened and grew,'" writes Bresnahan.

The resolution acknowledges, he continues, that the U.S. government "violated many of the treaties ratified by Congress and other diplomatic agreements with Indian tribes" while taking actions that caused "immense harm" to native peoples, including forced removal, relocation and extermination.

Brownback, Bresnahan says, "wants a formal apology to American Indians from the president and Congress."

Freshman Representative Cohen, who represents a predominantly black district in Tennessee, meanwhile "spoke out passionately for his resolution apologizing for the wrongs inflicted on blacks," writes Bresnahan.

Cohen seeks acknowledgement from the U.S. House of "the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality and inhumanity of slavery and Jim Crow" and demands an officially apology to "African-Americans on behalf of the people of the United States."

Cohen's resolution also offers a "commitment to rectify the lingering consequences of the misdeeds committed against African-Americans under slavery and Jim Crow and to stop the occurrence of human rights violations in the future."

Co-sponsors of Cohen's bill include 2008 Democratic presidential candidate Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), House Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers (D-MI), Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) and members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Bresnahan notes that Cohen attempted to join the Caucus after the 2006 election "but was turned down because he's white."

Excerpts from the Politico article, available in full here, follow...


"For 246 years, our Constitution and our laws allowed a system that made people slaves, that divided people from their families and treated them as property," Cohen said. "And for 100 years thereafter, a system of laws in many states throughout the country had Jim Crow laws that deprived people of the opportunity for equal access to education, health care, public facilities and other types of programs. These ended by law in the [1960s], somewhat through the efforts of Thurgood Marshall and other attorneys in Brown v. Board of Education, but the effects are lingering.

"This country needs to apologize for a brutal, inhumane system of slavery and Jim Crow laws," Cohen went on. "President Bush has made remarks similar to this in Senegal; President Clinton also in the [commonwealth] of Virginia most recently."

Cohen's resolution is graphic. "Slavery in America resembled no other form of involuntary servitude known in history, as Africans were captured and sold at auction like inanimate objects or animals," it says.

It also states that "the system of de jure racial segregation known as 'Jim Crow,' which arose in certain parts of the nation following the Civil War to create separate and unequal societies for whites and African-Americans" still has some "vestiges" today.