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Congressional Apology to Blacks July 31, 2008

Posted by Reginald Johnson in Africa, African-American, Culture, Election '08, Elections, Government, Life, Minority Issues, News, Odd News, Politics, U.S. Congress.

516 years since Christopher Columbus charted waters in the Western Hemisphere, 332 years since the independence of the future United States, 158 years since the end of the U.S. Civil War, 53 years since Eisenhower signed the Civil Rights Act of 1965, and years since the L.A. Riots…the House of Representatives finally said, “We’re sorry.”

The House, on Tuesday, issued an unprecedented apology to black Americans for the wrongs committed against them and their ancestors.  Black Americans have suffered under slavery and Jim Crow segregation laws.

Democratic Congresswoman Carolyn Cheeks Kirkpatrick said, “Today represents a milestone in our nation’s efforts to remedy the ills of our past.”  Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kirkpatrick represents the district of Michigan in the House.  She is also the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Steven Cohen, a Tennessee Democrat, was the brainchild of this resolution. He is the only white lawmaker to represent a majority black district. Some political talking heads believe that although Cohen’s heart may have been in the right place, but what is he really doing this for.  Cohen has a pretty big primary face-off next week.  He has a formidable foe, an African-American challenger, attorney Nikki Tinker.  She has lots of charisma and charm.  Let’s not forget about the elephant in the room: she is black and seeking the democratic nomination in a majority black district.

In 2006, Cohen became the first white to represent the 60 percent black district in Memphis in more than 30 years.  He won Harold Ford Jr.’s old seat when Ford vacated the spot to sun for the Senate.  Also when the seat came open, twelve other candidates (all black) split the black vote during the primary.  In his re-election, there are fewer people running and possibly the African-American community in Memphis figured it out:  if we get behind one person, we have a better chance of getting him/her elected.

Taking the prior statement into consideration, and adding the fact that U.S. Senator Barack Obama is running for the presidency, which has fueled more people to endorse more blacks, Cohen could have his work cut out for him.

Help is on the way because he has the endorsements from the Memphis Chapter of MoveOn.org and the National Organization of Women (NOW).

Cohen definitely understands how important it is to have the black community on his side. With Tinker in the picture, things could be a little rough for him.  Since his ascension to the House, he has worked tirelessly at reaching out to his black constituents. He wants his first term to not be his last.  Early in his term he admitted that he was very interested in joining the Congressional Black Caucus.  He has sought to do so until learning that was against caucus rules.

Congress issuing apologies is nothing new.  They’ve done this before – to Japanese-Americans and native Hawaiians for example.  Japanese-Americans, during World War II, were rounded up and sent to internment camps.  Prior to the Spanish-American War, the United States government supported and participated in the overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom in 1893.

The only thing that has come close to an apology to African-Americans was in 2005, when the Senate apologized for failing to pass anti-lynching laws.  But it was not really an apology as much as it was a rationale for their failure.

Individually, five states have issued apologies for slavery.  Congress has never been able to get any previous proposal through the governmental body.  The reason the Congress gives is over concerns that an apology would lead to demands for reparations — payment for damages.

Obviously Congressman Cohen’s resolution does not mention reparations.  Some opponents to a public apology from Congress believe African-Americans would demand reparations.  Not only that but some do not feel there is enough money to repay African-Americans.  This could widen the gap between African-Americans and Caucasian-Americans.

Another reason some disapprove of the apology is it does commit the House to rectifying “the lingering consequences of the misdeeds committed against African-Americans under slavery and Jim Crow.” One person said to me, “It’s like saying you cannot blame blacks for what they are doing because we as while have created this problem.”

There is absolute fact that Africans were taken from various western and central western tribes and forced into slavery.  Europeans brutalized them, humiliated them, dehumanized them and subjected them to the indignity of being stripped of their names and heritage.  Not only them, but also their children and their children’s’ children.  It is widely thought that that an overwhelming number of black Americans today continue to suffer from the consequences of slavery and Jim Crow laws that fostered discrimination and segregation.

In the apology given, the House “apologizes to African-Americans on behalf of the people of the United States, for the wrongs committed against them and their ancestors who suffered under slavery and Jim Crow.”

“Slavery and Jim Crow are stains upon what is the greatest nation on the face of the earth,” Cohen said. Part of forming a more perfect union, he said, “is such a resolution as we have before us today where we face up to our mistakes and apologize as anyone should apologize for things that were done in the past that were wrong.”

When the resolution was introduced more than a dozen of the 42 Congressional Black Caucus members in the House became co-sponsors of the measure. The caucus has not endorsed either Cohen or his chief rival, in the Memphis primary, although Cohen is backed by several senior members, including Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel, D-N.Y. Tinker is the former campaign manager of Harold Ford, Jr., who held Cohen’s seat until he stepped down in an unsuccessful run for the Senate in 2006.

The resolution itself was passed by voice vote.

Cohen’s rival, attorney Nikki Tinker is considered attractive, educated, and well-rounded.  But some people consider cadidate Tinker as a sell-out.  She’s a protégé of Harold Ford, Jr.


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