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State apologizing for slavery
Legislature passes resolution expressing 'profound regret' for its role; Riley committed to sign

By Phillip Rawls
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Legislature passed a resolution Thursday expressing "profound regret" for the state's role in slavery and apologizing for slavery's wrongs and lingering effects on the United States.

Alabama is the fourth Southern state to pass a slavery apology, following votes by the legislatures in Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina.

Immediately after the votes in the House and Senate, Alabama Gov. Bob Riley's spokesman, Jeff Emerson, said the Republican governor would keep a commitment he made earlier to sign the resolution as soon as he receives it.

In the Senate, the resolution vote split along party lines, with 20 Democrats in support and eight Republicans in opposition. The House took a voice vote, which provided no record of how anyone voted.

Sen. Hank Sanders, the black Democrat from Selma who guided the resolution through the Senate, said the vote "sends a message that Alabama is finally standing on its history rather than having its history weigh it down."

In Atlanta, Charles Steele, national president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said he was encouraged by the Legislature's actions.

"The perception of Alabama has begun to change," said Steele, a former Alabama state senator.

D'Linell Finley, an expert in minority politics at Auburn University Montgomery, said the resolution carried symbolic significance because the Legislature expressed a desire for reconciliation and because of "the willingness of a conservative Southern Republican governor to sign it."

But he said only time will tell if it means anything more. "As of now we don't see a great deal of substantial policy changes coming about because of the slavery apology," he said.

In April, the Alabama Senate passed a six-page resolution by Sanders that traced the history of slavery and segregation and expressed "profound regret" for them. At the same time, the Housed passed a shorter resolution by Rep. Mary Moore, D-Birmingham, that apologized for the state's role in slavery.

With support from Moore, Sanders added his resolution into Moore's on Thursday and got the Senate to approve the revised seven-page version. Then it went back to the House for approval. Some Republicans opposed to the resolution sought a roll call vote, but were unable to get one.

'Inflammatory language'

"Everybody detests slavery," House Minority Leader Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, said. But he said some Republicans opposed the resolution because they felt it contained "inflammatory language."

The revised resolution described "centuries of brutal dehumanization and injustices" and said "the vestiges of slavery are ever before African-American citizens."

It also said the House and Senate "express our profound regret for the State of Alabama's role in slavery and that we apologize for the wrongs inflicted by slavery and its after effects in the United States of America."

Moore, the sponsor of the resolution, said, "This will lead to Alabama being one of the leading states toward opening the doors to dialogue between blacks and whites."

Moore is among black lawmakers who make up one-fourth of the Alabama Legislature. The Legislature was all-white until the 1965 Voting Rights Act opened Southern polling places to blacks.

Orr substitution

Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, tried to substitute a different apology resolution that made it clear the legislative measure couldn't be used by the descendants of slaves to seek reparations from the state, but he was voted down 20-8.

Orr said he was concerned that the resolution passed by the Senate used the word "atonement." "If you look up the meaning of 'atonement,' it says 'to make amends or reparations,' " he said.

Sanders said the resolution made it clear that it can't be used as the basis for litigation.

Orr abstained on the final vote, but Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, voted against the resolution because he said it's time for the state to focus on its future rather than its past.

'Move forward'

"This is the kind of thing we need to let go of. There's no one alive today who owned a slave. There's no one alive who was a slave. It's time to move forward," Beason said.

House Speaker Seth Hammett, D-Andalusia, said the resolution will help Alabama move forward.

"It sends the right message around the world that Alabama is open for business and we have put the past in the past," Hammett said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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