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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2017 - 2018 Regular Session


Posted: January 6, 2017 02:11 PM
From: Senator Stewart J. Greenleaf
To: All Senate members
Subject: Honoring contributions of African Americans in building nation and acknowledging wrongs of slavery
I am introducing a resolution that honors the contributions that African Americans have made in building our nation as well as acknowledge the wrongs of slavery and express Pennsylvania’s profound regret for its role in slavery.

The contributions of African-American citizens as scientists, inventors, legislators, farmers, educators, explorers and countless other professions have greatly benefited this Commonwealth and our nation. African Americans have, throughout our country’s history, made it possible for us to move closer to the ideals on which America was founded: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” (Declaration of Independence).

During the existence of the Atlantic Slave Trade, millions of Africans were forcibly abducted to and enslaved in the New World, and millions more died during passage. To prime Africans for slavery, the fundamental values of the Africans were shattered; they were brutalized, humiliated, dehumanized, and subjected to the indignity of being stripped of their names and heritage; women and girls were raped, and families were disassembled as husbands and wives, mothers and daughters, and fathers and sons were sold into slavery apart from one another.

A series of complex colonial laws was enacted to relegate the status of Africans and their descendants to slavery, in spite of their loyalty, dedication, and service to the country, including heroic and distinguished service in the Revolutionary War, Civil War, and all other conflicts and military actions involving the United States military. Colonial Pennsylvania was a slave-owning society with an estimated population of 11,000 slaves in 1754, and the lives of free blacks in the colony were controlled by law. While the United States outlawed the transatlantic slave trade in 1808, the domestic slave trade in the colonies and illegal importation continued for several decades.

The system of slavery had become entrenched in American history and the social fabric, and the issue of enslaved Africans had to be addressed as a national issue, contributing to the Civil War from 1861 to 1865 and the passage of the Thirteenth (13th) Amendment to the United States Constitution, which abolished slavery and involuntary servitude on December 6, 1865. Throughout their existence in America and even in the decades after the Civil Rights Movement, African-Americans have found the struggle to overcome the bitter legacy of slavery long and arduous, and for many African-Americans the scars left behind are unbearable, haunting their psyches and clouding their vision of the future and of America's many positive attributes. The story of the enslavement of Africans and their descendants, the human carnage, and the dehumanizing atrocities committed during slavery should not be purged from Pennsylvania’s history or discounted; moreover, the faith, perseverance, hope, and endless triumphs of African-Americans and their significant contributions to the development of this State and the nation should be embraced, celebrated, and retold for generations to come.

An apology for centuries of brutal dehumanization and injustices cannot erase the past, but acknowledgement of the wrongs can speed racial healing and reconciliation and help Pennsylvanians confront the ghosts of their pasts. To date, 9 states have issued resolutions apologizing and expressing regret for slavery. In addition, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution in 2008 apologizing for slavery and subsequent discriminatory laws, and the U.S. Senate passed a similar resolution in 2009.

That said, the Senate honors the contributions that African Americans have made in building our nation. It also acknowledges the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality and inhumanity of slavery. The Senate expresses its deepest sympathies and solemn regrets to those who were enslaved and the descendants of those slaves, who were deprived of life, human dignity, and the constitutional protections accorded all citizens of the United States. It also implores all Pennsylvanians to be tolerant and understanding of one another, with the goal of eliminating all racial bias, prejudice, and discriminatory behavior, and to remember and teach their children about the history of slavery, Jim Crow laws, and modern day slavery, to ensure that these tragedies will neither be forgotten nor repeated.

If you are interested in cosponsoring this resolution, please do so by Noon on Tuesday, January 17th.

Introduced as SR7