Official apologies given by the federal, state or local governments are an effective method of recognizing and commemorating past injustice. Apologies, though not tangible, concede to a moral acknowledgment of injustice. An admission that an action was wrong is often difficult to come by for both individuals and governments. However, apologies can be meaningful moments to victims of historical wrongs and an important step toward validating an unpleasant moment in history.
In the case of civil rights activism, government bodies in the South and North were complicit in the violence that befell civil rights activists. Government at every level can reflect and recognize the role played during the civil rights era and formally voice apologies for the harms that have never been acknowledged.
Slavery and Racial Segregation
U.S. Senate Apology for Slavery
The Senate unanimously passed a resolution apologizing for slavery and racial segregation in the United States. On June 18, 2009, the Senate sent the measure to the House.
House Resolution Apology for Slavery
The House passed a resolution on July 29, 2008, apologizing for the enslavement and racial segregation of African Americans.
U.S. Apology to Kingdom of Hawaii
The United States government issued a formal apology to the Kingdom of Hawaii for the illegal overthrow of the Kingdom.on November 23, 1993, President William J. Clinton signed the apology. (Public Law 103-150 of the 103rd Congress). However, on March 31, 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling that allows the Hawaiian government to sell state lands, effectively limiting the scope of the apology. Hawaii v. Office of Hawaiian Affairs, 129 S. Ct. 1436 (U.S. 2009).
Tuskegee Syphilis Study
In 1996, President William J. Clinton issued an official apology for the Tuskegee Syphilis study. The government-sponsored study took place at the Tuskegee Institute in Macon County, Alabama. The study examined the effects of syphilis and was carried out over four decades on African-American men from whom necessary treatment was withheld and who were given inadequate information about the experiment. Over 600 African-American men and their families were affected.
- Remarks of President Clinton at the White House in Apology of the Study Done in Tuskegee
- Tuskegee, CDC The history of the Tuskegee Study is available at the Department of Human Health and Services: Center for Disease Control and Prevention website.
On June 13, 2005, the United States Senate passed a resolution formally apologizing to the victims of lynching and their descendants for the failure of the Senate to enact anti-lynching legislation. Led by the NAACP and Ida B. Wells, campaigns against lynching won House approval of several measures to prevent the epidemic in the early twentieth century, but these bills never passed the Senate.
Korematsu and WWII Internment
As part of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, 50 App. U.S.C. § 1989, the United States Government officially apologized to persons of Japanese descent who were interned in camps during World War II. The Act provided reparations to those affected by internment.
Fred Korematsu, who initiated the federal suit challenging the internment laws that ultimately reached the Supreme Court, Korematsu v. U.S., 373 US 214 (1944), received an official apology from President Williams J. Clinton, and in 1998, the Presidential Medal of Freedom was conferred upon Korematsu.
- Internment of Japanese Citizens, University of Dayton
This site contains links to legal developments and news updates on internment matters.
Bureau of Indian Affairs Apology to American Indians
On September 8, 2000, Kevin Gover, then Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs, apologized for atrocities committed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs against American Indians throughout the agency’s 175 year history.
On June 7, 2007, Alabama Governor Bob Riley signed Moore-Sanders Apology for Slavery Act (HJR 321) into law.
On May 21, 2009, the Connecticut House of Representatives passed House Joint Resolution No. 1 to formally apologize for its role in slavery and became the second northern state after New Jersey to issue an apology.
On March 26, 2008, the Florida legislature passed Senate Concurrent Resolution 2390 to formally apology for its role in slavery.
The Maryland General Assembly was the first to consider apologies for slavery. In 2000, Governor Parris Glendening established the Commission to Coordinate the Study, Commemoration, and Impact of Slavery’s History and Legacy in Maryland. The Commission was charged with identifying and preserving cultural and historical sites relating to slavery, and considering the lingering effects and legacy of the institution. Based on the findings of the Commission, in 2006 the Maryland General Assembly passed H.B. 1049, which required Governor Robert Ehrlich to apologize on behalf of the citizens of Maryland on September 22, 2006, the 144th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.
On January 8, 2008, New Jersey state legislature passed ACR No. 270, 212 Legislature and became the first northern state to do so. New Jersey legislators also proposed the establishment of a special commission to investigate the legacy of slavery. Although the plan for the special commission did not win legislative approval, some of the initiatives were addressed by the existing New Jersey Amistad Commission, which creates educational programming about slavery.
The North Carolina legislature apologized for its role in slavery with the passage ofon April 12, 2007.
On April 12, 2007, the North Carolina legislature apologized for its role in slavery with the passage of Senate Joint Resolution 1557.
In January 2009, Tennessee State Representative Brenda Gilmore proposed resolution to apologize for slavery and racial discrimination. The resolution was challenged in the House of Representatives and withdrawn on April 23, 2009.
On February 24, 2007, Senate Joint Resolution No. 332 was passed and acknowledged the state’s role in slavery and made a formal apology.