Lawmakers in Connecticut are considering following the footsteps of five other states by apologizing for its role in the slave trade and other government-sanctioned racist policies of the past.
On Monday, a legislative committee pondered a resolution that would issue a formal, general apology and express the General Assembly's "profound contrition" for the official acts that sanctioned and perpetuated slavery hundreds of years ago, The Associated Press reports. If the resolution passes, Connecticut would become the first New England state to acknowledge that it played a role in one of the nation’s most heinous acts of inhumanity in history. New Jersey is the only other northern state to do so, joining the southern quartet of Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina and Alabama.
Connecticut’s African-American Affairs Commission, which advocates on behalf of Black residents, says that passing the resolution would exemplify "an exercise in reconciliation" and is not intended to assess blame for slavery.
"While this is encouraging," the commission's legislative analyst, Frank Sykes told the legislature's Government Administration and Elections Committee, "it should inspire us and challenge us to continue peeling away at the layers of racial discrimination and intolerance." Barack Obama’s ascension as president of the United States has opened the door for such an opportunity, he noted, and it “must be seized.”
African Americans comprise about a tenth of Connecticut’s population, according to U.S. Census estimates for 2007.
"Slavery has left a cultural burden on both the exploited and the exploiters that still permeates our society," John A. Stewart, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Hartford, told AP. He cited his state’s employment and wage gaps, noting that Black men earn 70 percent of their White male counterparts.
Black men are four times as likely as White men to live below the federal poverty line, and Black children under 5 are seven times more likely than White children to live in poverty, Stewart said.
"…[S]lavery was practiced in Connecticut from the 17th through 19th centuries,” AP writes, citing the resolution. “There were about 5,100 slaves in the colony by the mid-1770s, about 3 percent of the population at the time. In 1723, the colony passed an act creating a 9 p.m. curfew for slaves to prevent what it called the ‘Disorder of Negro and Indian Servants and Slaves in the Night Season.’ Violation of the curfew was punishable by a whipping for the servant and a fine for the master.”
As the state’s wealth burgeoned, the resolution states, “merchants participated in the Triangle Trade, which carried slaves, crops and goods among West Africa, the Caribbean and America.” And on numerous occasions, the state rejected opportunities to stand up for freedom and voting rights. Once emancipation finally came to Connecticut in 1848, the state became a leader in the abolition movement, the resolution also points out.