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Slavery apology measure ignites legislative debate

Slavery apology measure ignites legislative debate

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RICHMOND - A resolution to have Virginia apologize for slavery will encounter some opposition in the House of Delegates this month, according to legislators.

The highly symbolic issue likely to spark debate is a proposed state apology for African enslavement sponsored by black Virginia lawmakers, at least two of whom are descended from slaves.

“It is meant to be a resolution that is part of a healing process, a process that still needs to take place even today in 2007,” said one sponsor, Del. A. Donald McEachin, D-Henrico County.

“No one is asking any individual to apologize, because certainly there are no slaveholders alive today and there are no slaves alive today,” said McEachin, whose great-grandfather was born a slave.

“But Virginia is alive and well, and Virginia was built on the backs of slaves, and Virginia’s economy boomed because of slavery, and it is Virginia that ought to apologize,” he said.

Some delegates believe an apology is unnecessary and a sign of too much political correctness.

“The present commonwealth has nothing to do with slavery,” said Del. Frank D. Hargrove, R-Glen Allen, whose ancestors were French Huguenots who came to America in search of religious freedom.

How far do these calls for apologies go, wondered Hargrove, a member of the House Rules Committee that could take up McEachin’s resolution as early as Wednesday.

“Are we going to force the Jews to apologize for killing Christ?” Hargrove wondered. “Nobody living today had anything to do with it. It would be far more appropriate in my view to apologize to the Upper Mattaponi and the Pamunkey” Indians for the loss of their lands in eastern Virginia, he said.

A similar request for an apology to Virginia Indians is planned, McEachin said

Virginia, which received its first slaves at Jamestown in 1619, would be the first state to formally apologize for slavery.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Richmond Democrat, apologized for slavery while mayor of Richmond, said Kevin Hall, Kaine’s press secretary. “He wouldn’t necessarily be opposed to it and certainly he’s got a history of being able to act while in office,” Hall said. A governor’s approval is not required for passage of a joint legislative resolution.

Hargrove said raising the issue is not only symbolic, but “I think it’s counterproductive.” Other Republican delegates kept their views off the record.

“I personally think that our black citizens should get over it,” Hargrove said of slavery, which existed in Virginia from 1619 until the Civil War. “By golly, we’re living in 2007.”

“Nobody can justify slavery today, but it’s counterproductive to dwell on that,” Hargrove said. “Political correctness has kind of gotten us into this area.”

Any pollster would learn that “you couldn’t find a tenth of 1 percent [of Virginians] who said slavery is a good institution,” said Hargrove, who has represented Hanover County in the House of Delegates since 1982.

Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath County, said the issue is symbolic but that from 1619 to 1863 many Virginians were denied their citizenship.

“I think it’s appropriate and I am going to vote for it,” Deeds said.

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