Delaware Gov. Jack Markell signed a formal resolution Wednesday apologizing for the state’s role in perpetuating slavery.
“Delaware today is impacted by the lasting legacy of slavery, including ongoing tension between races and the existence of institutional racism,” states the resolution. “It is important for Delaware to make a formal apology for slavery and Jim Crow, so that it can move forward and seek reconciliation, justice, and harmony for all of its citizens."
Delaware was one of the last states to abolish slavery, followed only by Kentucky and Mississippi, though it did not secede. The state becomes the ninth to issue a formal apology for slavery; Virginia was the first state in 2007 to acknowledge “with profound regret” the enslavement of Africans, followed by Maryland, North Carolina, and Alabama that same year. New Jersey and Florida followed in 2008 and Tennessee and Connecticut in 2009. Both the U.S. House and Senate passed bills apologizing for slavery in 2008 and 2009, respectively, but failed to become laws.
Delaware's General Assembly passed the legislation in January as an important step toward addressing the state’s continued racial inequalities, the Christian Science Monitor reported.
“It’s essential that we publicly and candidly and wholly recognize the everlasting damage of those sins,” Governor Markell told parishioners at the Bethel American Methodist Episcopal Church on the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery, “damage that reverberates to this day in a country were 150 years after the establishment of slavery and decades after the official end of the Jim Crow era, being black in Delaware and being black in America means your likelihood of prosperity and success is less than if you are white.”
The Washington Post points out that the Delaware resolution includes a line that seems to protect itself from future reparations suits: “It is the intent of the General Assembly that this Joint Resolution shall not be used in, or be the basis of, any type of litigation.” Reparations became a subject of discussion in the presidential election after Bernie Sanders said they would be "divisive." And at Fusion's Black and Brown Forum in January Hillary Clinton dodged the question of whether she supported reparations.
The bill was hard-fought, and came after repeated requests by activists, the Monitor said. Harmon Carey, leader of the Afro-American Historical Society in Wilmington, says Markell ignored two of his requests before he asked a third time last July, after the Charleston church shootings.
“I thought that one way for us to respond—‘us’ meaning Delawareans—was for the governor to issue an official apology for slavery,” Carey said. “It would say to me that my government cares enough about African American people to issue a proclamation.”
Rob covers business, economics and the environment for Fusion. He previously worked at Business Insider. He grew up in Chicago.