Black legislator to revive slavery apology

ATLANTA — Despite several failed attempts to get Georgia to apologize for slavery, state Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway, says is reviving the resolution this session because it is still a cause worth fighting for.

“We’re going to continue to make the effort,” Williams said. “It should have been done a long time ago. At some point, somebody has to step up.”

The issue died a bitter death in 2007 after legislative leaders cooled to the idea. Last year, the Georgia NAACP chapter sent a letter to Gov. Sonny Perdue renewing its request for him to reconsider a slavery apology.

The proposal has faced an uphill battle from many who feel an apology would mean admitting responsibility for the wrongs of others. Williams said he has started trying to build a consensus for a more favorable outcome during February, which is Black History Month, and that he is willing to consider changing the language as other states have done and express “regret” for slavery.

The state, as an institution, owned dozens of slaves — who provided a major source of tax revenue before they were sold in 1834.

“You’ve got to deal with the history,” said Williams, a former chairman of the legislative black caucus. “It is what it is. Slaves did work on the Capitol and in the state of Georgia.”

Along with its Southern neighbors, Georgia is gearing up to mark the 150th anniversary of the Civil War in 2011. Gov. Sonny Perdue signed a bill last year establishing April as Confederate Heritage and History Month in Georgia. Governments, schools, businesses and residents are encouraged to participate in programs throughout the month celebrating the Confederate States of America.

Six other states, mostly in the South, already have passed resolutions apologizing or expressing regret for slavery: Florida, Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, New Jersey and Virginia. The U.S. House voted in 2008 to apologize for slavery, and President Obama has said such an apology was appropriate but not particularly helpful in improving the lives of black Americans.

Senate Minority Leader Robert Brown, D-Macon, agreed.

He said he would not support the proposal.

“I don’t see how an apology means anything,” Brown said. “It doesn’t change anything. I just think it’s meaningless and it doesn’t give anything to our community.”