By Adrienne S. Gaines
Rep. Tony Hall faced sharp resistance in 1997 in a failed attempt to push a similar measure through Congress
In an effort to "begin a process of healing" from the effects of
slavery, Rep. Tony Hall, D-Ohio, re-introduced in June a resolution
calling for a congressional apology for the legacy of slavery. Hall's
announcement coincided with Washington Juneteenth 2000, a celebration
of the day the last slaves in the United States were notified of their
freedom on June 19, 1865.
"When you hurt somebody, it's not easy to say I'm sorry," Hall said. "But without an apology there can be no healing."
Hall, a born-again Christian, introduced a similar bill in 1997, but
the resolution was met with criticism from blacks and whites alike.
Many blacks believed Hall's apology didn't solve the problems that
slavery created. Some whites couldn't understand why they needed to
repent for someone else's sin.
"As a country we participated in slavery. We tore families apart," Hall
said. "Our Constitution didn't even count them as people; we counted
them as property. In fact, this Capitol, I understand, was partially
built by slaves."
Hall's current resolution also calls for a study on reparations, an
addition Hall made after he attended a reconciliation conference in
Benin, West Africa. At the conference President Mathieu Kerekou of
Benin issued a national apology for the role Africans played in the
slave trade to break a curse Kerekou believes is on his land as a
result of the trade.
Kerekou and Ghana President Jerry John Rawlings told Hall that one "should not waste an apology."
"I always felt there should be something after an apology," Hall said. "Apologizing is only a step. We do need a second step."
Several black Christian leaders stood with Hall in support of his
resolution, including Barbara Skinner, who with her late husband, Tom
Skinner, founded the Skinner Farm Leadership Institute, and Mark
Pollard, head of the National Common Ground Coalition, a reconciliation
ministry based in Atlanta.
Hall's announcement was purposely scheduled to coincide with Washington
Juneteenth 2000. Pollard said Juneteenth is symbolic of "the tragedy of
deferred freedom and the triumph of a dignified people." Juneteenth is
still relevant, he says, because it stands as a backdrop for concerns
that true freedom hasn't been realized.
Though participation was low at the main event held June 17, the
celebration convened a who's who of black leaders, including actress
T'Keyah Crystal Keymah of Cosby and Bishop Eddie L. Long, pastor of New
Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta. Long challenged the crowd
not to focus on the past.
"We celebrate this day because we finally got the word [of our
freedom]. But it's amazing, we've been wagging the tail for so long,"
Long said. "We're always behind. We need to liberate our children. All
of our children need to be computer-literate. The computers are not
prejudiced. If you can produce, then you will get business."
Some Christian leaders believe that some blacks will stay focused on
the past until they are healed from its pain. Reconciliation, they
believe, is the key. But the church must lead.
"Reconciliation is not possible except biblically," Barbara Skinner
said. "When were blacks and whites ever together? Blacks and whites are
only one at the foot of the cross. The people of God could re-write
history if we were obedient to God's law."
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