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"Apologies/Reparations"

March/April 2007 issue of Poverty & Race

We periodically offer a compendium of recent reports dealing with apologies and reparations around the world -- for whatever lessons and models they might provide here at home. The most recent appeared in our Jan./Feb. 2005 issue. We’ll be happy to send you a compendium of all 9 earlier such reports: just send us a SASE (63¢ postage).

• The Virginia House of Delegates unanimously approved a resolution expressing “profound regret for the Commonwealth’s role in sanctioning the immoral institution of human slavery...and... all other forms of discrimination and injustice that have been rooted in racial and cultural bias and misunderstanding”; the statement also condemns the “egregious wrongs” that European settlers inflicted on Native Americans.The action comes as the state is celebrating the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, the first settlement of Europeans. (Wash. Post, 2/3/07)

• Immediately thereafter, Maryland lawmakers heard testimony on a similar resolution “expressing regret” for that state’s role in maintaining slavery and “for the discrimination that was slavery’s legacy.” The resolution says in part: “Maryland citizens trafficked in human flesh until the adoption of the Constitution of 1864....Slavery’s legacy has afflicted the citizens of our state down to the present.” (Wash. Post, 3/2/07)

• The City Council of Maryland’s capital city, Annapolis, has under consideration a resolution calling for an official apology for slavery, in the words of its sponsor, Alderman Sam Shropshire, “part of a healing process, a process that still needs to take place even today in 2007...for our municipal government’s past support and involvement in slavery and for our support of segregation for nearly 100 years.” (Wash. Post, 3/23/07)

• Britain’s lawmakers granted posthumous pardons to some 300 soldiers executed during World War I for failing to return to the front. (Wash. Post, 11/8/06)

• Topeka, Kansas officials have named a building after the first Topeka parent to sign on as a plaintiff in Brown v. Board of Education. The Lucinda Todd Education Center houses administrative offices and an alternative school for students in danger of dropping out. Ms. Todd, who died in 1993, was Secretary of the local NAACP chapter and helped recruit other plaintiffs. (Wash. Post, 11/19/06)

• The Montgomery, Alabama City Council voted unanimously to formally apologize to Rosa Parks and others mistreated in the 1955 bus boycott. (Wash. Post, 4/20/06)

• A federal judge approved a $35 million settlement in a class action against an Italian insurance company by Holocaust survivors and relatives of victims, adding to the $100 million the company already had agreed to pay. (New
York Times
, 2/28/07)

• A ceremony at the U.S. Capitol honored Oscar Marion, a slave owned by Revolutionary War Gen. Francis Marion (known as the “Swamp Fox” for his battle against the British in So. Carolina), who accompanied and served the General for 7 years during the War of Independence. Oscar Marion is depicted in many paintings (including one hanging in the Senate wing of the Capitol) and is described only as “the faithful Negro servant” in books written about Gen. Marion. A distant cousin, a genealogist, undertook to establish his identity. Rep. Albert R. Wynn (D-Md.), who helped arrange the ceremony, noted that “African Americans have been marginalized in so many different events in American history, as if they didn’t exist. Whenever we can bring to light the name of a figure engaged in a historic event, it is good thing.” (Wash. Post, 12/29/06)

• A bill approved by Congress calls for a federal study to better define the Trail of Tears route, when more than 15,000 members of the Cherokee, Creek and other tribes were forced from their homes in 1838 to make way for white settlement. Untold hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Native Americans died during the forced removal to Indian Territory—in what is now Oklahoma. The National Park Service oversees the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail, which winds through nine states. The study likely will also result in an education and research center. Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.), primary sponsor of the bill, who claims Cherokee ancestry, noted: “You have to recognize and acknowledge your mistakes for the white man to make this right. There has to be an acknowledgement that ... slavery was a mistake, the Trail of Tears was a mistake.” (Wash. Post, 11/24/06)

• The House and Senate passed a bill committing $38 million in National Park Service grants to restore and pay for research at 10 World War II internment camps for Japanese Americans, some 120,000 of whom were rounded up and imprisoned under a 1942 Executive Order signed by President Roosevelt, which also prohibited Japanese Americans from living on the West Coast. The Park Service already operates centers at two camps, the Manzanar National Historic Site in California and the Minidoka Internment National Monument in Idaho. The 10 camps specified in the new legislation are in Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Utah and Wyoming. In 1988, President Reagan signed a presidential apology. (New York Times, 12/6/06)

• H.R. 662, the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Latin Americans of Japanese Descent Act, has been introduced by Reps. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) and Dan Lundgren (R-Calif.). During World War II, an estimated 2,300 people of Japanese descent from 13 Latin American countries were taken from their homes and forcibly transported to a government-run internment camp in Crystal City, Texas. Adding to this injustice, some 800 of them were then sent to Japan in exchange for American prisoners of war, the rest held in camps without due process until the war ended. The bill authorizes study of these events (via U.S. military and State Department records) and recommendation of appropriate remedies. The earlier Commission on Wartime Relocation of Civilians led to passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which provided an official apology and financial redress to most of the Japanese Americans who were subjected to wrongdoing and confined to camps during World War II.

• The Serbian entity of the government of Bosnia and Herzegovina officially apologized to the victims of the 1992-95 civil war, 2 days after international judges in The Hague ruled that Bosnian Serb forces had committed genocide in the killing of nearly 8,000 Muslims in Srebrenica in 1995. (New York Times, 3/1/07)

• The Justice Department is partnering with civil rights organizations—the NAACP, National Urban League and Southern Poverty Law Center—to pursue the killers of scores of black men and women slain by white vigilantes in the South during the 1950s and 1960s. There are 40 unsolved murder cases that are of interest to the federal government (although the Southern Poverty Law Center has compiled a list of 76 unsolved cases, mainly in Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia), and the Department will re-open investigations in 12 cases.

And the not-so-good news:

• The Cherokee Nation members voted to revoke the tribal citizenship of the Freedmen, some 2,800 descendants of the people the Cherokee’s once owned as slaves. A similar battle in 2003 involving the Seminole nation was won by the Freedmen. (Wash. Post, 3/3/07, New York Times, 3/3/07, 3/4/07)

• Indonesia’s Constitutional Court ruled the country’s truth and reconciliation commission illegal, casting doubt on whether victims of former dictator Suharto will ever see justice. (Wash. Post, 12/9/06)

• A grand jury in Leflore County, Mississippi, refused to issue new indictments in the Emmett Till case. While two men admitted to the killing in 1956 after being acquitted by an all-white jury, the Justice Dept. re-opened the case in 2004, seeking others who had been involved, including Carolyn Bryant, the white woman Till was supposed to have whistled at—which led to his murder. The 8,000+ page FBI report was turned over to the District Attorney, who sought a manslaughter charge against Ms. Bryant, the last living suspect in the case. (New York Times, 2/28/07)

• Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has denied that Japan’s military forced foreign women into sexual slavery during World War II, contradicting the Japanese government’s long-time official position, issued in 1993, acknowledging the military’s role in setting up brothels and directly or indirectly forcing women into sexual slavery—a declaration that also offered an apology to the euphemistically termed “comfort women.” The U.S. House of Representatives has begun debating a resolution that would call on Tokyo to “apologize for and acknowledge” the military’s role. Historians believe that some 200,000 women—Koreans, Chinese, Taiwanese, Filipinos, as well as Japanese, Dutch and other European women, served in such brothels. The government earlier established a private, non-governmental fund to compensate the women (set to close down this month), but many former slaves refused to accept compensation from this fund, claiming it evaded direct official responsibility. (New York Times, 3/2/07, 3/6/07, 3/8/07)
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