The Virginia General Assembly on Saturday voted unanimously on a resolution that expressed “profound regret” for the state’s role played in slavery. The non-binding resolution passed the Virginia House by a vote of 96-0 and was similarly backed, 40-0, in the Senate.
In addition, the resolution expressed regret for the “exploitation of Native Americans” in the state.
The resolution came as the state of Virginia prepares to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Jamestown. The town was the site of the first slaves to the region, in 1619. The resolution also said that the government-sanctioned slavery “ranks as the most horrendous of all depredations of human rights and violations of our founding ideals in our nation’s history.”
“The abolition of slavery was followed by systematic discrimination, enforced segregation, and other insidious institutions and practices toward Americans of African descent that were rooted in racism, racial bias, and racial misunderstanding,” the resolution continued.
The state of the Virginia’s resolution, according to sponsors, say that according to their knowledge, this is the first time a state has made an official apology for slavery. Missouri lawmakers are considering such a measure, which – like the resolution from Virginia – would carry no weight of law, but would be a meaningful symbolic gesture.
The resolution, however, It is not the first gesture a state has made in an effort to provide closure to an ugly time in American history. The state of Florida agreed to pay more than two million dollars to the survivors and descendants of the all-black town of Rosewood. The town was destroyed in 1923 by a white mob. In 1995, the Southern Baptist Convention made an official apology for transgressions in its past, including defending slavery and its racist roots.
The Virginia apology is the latest move the state has made in addressing its past. In 1989, Virginia elected L. Douglas Wilder, the country’s first black governor. And in 2004, the Legislature created a scholarship fun for blacks whose schools had been shut down between 1954 and 1964.
”This session will be remembered for a lot of things, but 20 years hence I suspect one of those things will be the fact that we came together and passed this resolution,” said Delegate A. Donald McEachin, a Democrat who sponsored the resolution in the House of Delegates.