A president of The United States of America has never apologized for the enslavement of Africans and African Americans, nor the Jim Crow era that stripped opportunity and equality from so many African Americans following Reconstruction.
Reagan did sign the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which was an official apology and reparations to Japanese-Americans, for their wrongful internment on American soil, in places like Minidoka in Idaho, during World War II. This is especially poignant to note because it was today in 1942, that President Roosevelt reluctantly signed Proclamation No. 2537, which put into motion these internments. (I say reluctantly, because he was pushed by majority leaders in California, etc.)
However, in terms of other historical injustices, which happened over a longer period of time in America and which impacted a far greater number of people, only unofficial, incongruent, or addendum apologies have been kicked around by congressional or senatorial representatives. In the back portion of Defense Appropriations Act of 2010 (H.R. 3326, section 8113) you will find an apology sans reparations and sans liability to the US government for "many instances of violence, maltreatment, and neglect inflicted on Native Peoples by citizens of the United States" (H.R. 3326, section 8113.2). This act also called on the President of the United States to acknowledge such wrongs, which President Obama did the same year. (A president, we should note, whose ancestry included people that had been wronged by our government was required to apologize on behalf of that government.)
H.R. 3326 also encouraged "all state governments to work toward reconciling their relationship with Indian tribes within their boundaries" (Sec. 8113.4) Unlike the Japanese-American apology, this one did not come with reparations.
In 2008 and 2009, it appeared that an official apology might happen for African Americans, too. By this time, some West African nations had been issuing formal apologies for their roles in the transatlantic slave trade: Benin (1999), Ghana (2006), and later by tribal leaders in Cameroon (2013) and among other West African peoples. In some cases these apologies were issued to descendants of peoples who had been enslaved in places like Virginia. And sometimes it was encouraged by the missionary outreach of Virginians, like Brian Johnson who heads a Reconciliation Missions Network in Africa, according to one article, West Africans to African-Americans: "We Apology for Slavery."
H.R. 194, which was passed by the House of Representatives in July 2008, "acknowledges that slavery is incompatible with the basic principle recognized in the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal. Acknowledges the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery and Jim Crow. Apologizes to African-Americans on behalf of the U.S. people for the wrongs committed against them and their ancestors. Commits to rectifying the lingering consequences of slavery and Jim Crow and to stopping future human rights violations." But it didn't go any further. There was no presidential apology. No reparations. It settled like a sparked match without a candle to light.
In presenting H.R. 194, Rep. Cohen stated: "I speak on this resolution and urge the members of this body to pass this historic resolution, recognize our errors, but also recognize the greatness of this country, because only a great country can recognize and admit its mistakes and then travel forth to create indeed a more perfect union that works to bring people of all races, religions and creeds together in unity as Americans part of the United States of America."
And that is where we are today. In a post-George Floyd world that has experienced an unprecedented global pandemic and continues to experience repercussions from both, America's leaders need to support reconciliatory measures in their communities. I'm not talking about checks to some citizens and not to others. I'm talking about investing in appropriate public spaces (schools, parks, roads, etc), whose names empower and inspire - not haunt part of a community; investing in the educational success of all of our children; investing in health reforms that care for all of our elderly; investing in our country's healing.
The impacts of historical trauma are real. To heal from such trauma, it is vital to acknowledge the wrongdoings of a country against people that should have been under its protection, allow the stories to be known, and integrate actions that promote transformation into places of inclusion and respect for all Americans.
Renaming southern campus schools to once again bear the names of Confederate leaders that worked, in some cases, until their deaths to lead others against the ideals of equality and justice, aligns with the impacts of historical trauma. I encourage you to publicly work toward true social healing by encouraging continued acts of reconciliation in our community.
SENK is an artist and writer in the Shenandoah Valley. The blog, 52 Weeks, is an ethical contemplation on the importance of choosing public school names that are not divisive within a community. Each post is based on over eight years of research by the author. 52 Weeks is a compassionate appeal to community and school board members to not revert to the names of Confederate leaders for Shenandoah County, Va, public schools.
47 / Maintaining Public Peace
46 / Brown v. Board
45 / Rebuilding a Pro-Confederate South
44 / An Out-of-area Education
43 / Where's the 'Common Sense Consideration'?
42 / Education Without Heart
41 / Self-Preservation
40 / Free Public Schools
39 / The Mask of Defiance
38 / The Golden Door of Freedom
37 / Prejudicial to our Race
36 / Are We Compassionate?
35 / Community
34 / Need for Radical Change
33 / Bitter Prejudice
32 / Fear of 'Negro Equality'
31 / Rachel, Lashed to Death
30 / The Whim of the Court: A Look at Jacob, Stacy, Lett; March & Peter; Jeffrey & Peter
29 / Ben, Tom, Ned, Clary, & two men from the furnace
28 / The Loss of Fortune
27 / James Scott, A Free Man
26 / The Unremembered, The Unheard
25 / The American Cause
24 / Tithables for the County & Parish
23 / Satisfactory Proof of Being Free
22 / Building Community Takes Trust
21 / Jacob's Case
20 / Whose Control?
19 / Racial Classifications
18 / The Cost of Freedom in 1840
17 / Sale of Children
16 / Bequeathal of Future Increase
15 / The First Annual
14 / From a Descendant of a CSA Soldier
13 / True Americanism
12 / Slavery. A Hot Topic.
11 / Real Character
10 / Real Apologies
9 / Freedom from Fear
8 / 250 Years
7 / The Courage of Christ
6 / Whose Narratives?
5 / The 13th Amendment
4 / Symbolic Act of Justice
3 / Giving Thanks
2 / Confederate Congress
1 / Veteran's Day