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Orr troubled by wording of slavery apology

By M.J. Ellington (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — A local state senator said he didn't want to send a negative message by voting no on a bill apologizing for slavery, but he also couldn't vote yes.

Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, who abstained from Tuesday's vote, said he couldn't support language he believes could lead to lawsuits.

The issues came up regarding an Alabama slavery apology resolution that Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma, asked his colleagues to pass.

Riley's influence

But a Montgomery senator said Gov. Bob Riley's promise to sign the resolution into law had as much to do with the abstentions as did objections to the wording.

"I think you had five senators abstaining who would have voted against it," said Sen. Larry Dixon, R-Montgomery.

Orr said Riley's position had bearing on his decision, but there were other reasons he abstained.

For Orr, the most bothersome word in the resolution was "atonement."

Orr said the dictionary definition of atonement includes "reparations," which opponents in some states considering similar resolutions argue opens the door to lawsuits from descendants of slaves.

"The measure was overly broad," Orr said. He said slaveholders made up only a small part of the population in Alabama and few of his North Alabama constituents are descendants of slaveholders.

Dixon said his concern goes even deeper. He fears a national effort by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to pass bills in multiple states may land those states in court.

He called the resolution inflammatory and said it could leave the state vulnerable for claims from descendants of slaves. "I do not believe that black people today experience discrimination in health care, in retail, in getting into a school or while driving a car," he said. The resolution included all of those, he said.

The slavery apology measure passed the Senate Tuesday and is on its way to the House for consideration. A similar measure by Rep. Mary Moore, D-Birmingham, passed the House and now goes to the Senate.

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