Whereas, the legislators are misguided ...

April 03, 2004|By GREGORY KANE

YOU HAD TO figure that somewhere along the line, Maryland's General Assembly would get in on the reparations-for-slavery debate.

It did this year, with members of the Senate and House adopting a joint resolution "concerning reparations for the Enslavement of African Americans." The capitalization of enslavement is their doing, not mine.

The state resolution is in support of Michigan Rep. John Conyers' proposal which calls for a commission to study the effects of slavery, including economic discrimination, on African-Americans today.

FOR THE RECORD - The status of a resolution on the issue of slavery reparations was misstated in Gregory Kane's column in Saturday's editions. A resolution has been introduced in Maryland's General Assembly but has not been voted on by either the House of Delegates or the Senate. The column erroneously said the resolution had been adopted by both houses.

The Maryland resolution is rife with all the usual "whereas" stuff that legal proposals usually have, some of which might be based on claims that are, at best, highly debatable. Take, for instance, the second "whereas."

"Whereas, The United States government has never acknowledged, apologized, or otherwise taken responsibility for its role in slavery or segregation, de jure and de facto, and has never made reparations to African Americans for the generations of labor expropriated from them, deprivation of their freedom and rights, and terrorism against them resulting in widespread injury and death ..."

No acknowledgment or apology? Let's see. How about this?

It comes from President Lincoln's second inaugural address.

"The Almighty has His own purposes. `Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.' If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him?

"Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, `The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'"

The Lincoln speech is so eloquent that American students should be required to memorize it. (That won't happen, since Lincoln mentioned God and all.) It's not only an acknowledgement of and apology for slavery, it's a statement that says slavery was a crime so vile that God punished the United States for it with four years of bloody, horrible civil war.

Abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who was one of the slaves current Maryland legislators claim to be speaking for, called Lincoln's second inaugural address "a sacred effort." If it was good enough for Douglass, it should be for the rest of us.

What about this one from Lyndon Johnson?

"Three and a half centuries ago the first Negroes arrived at Jamestown. They did not arrive in brave ships in search of a home for freedom. They did not mingle fear and joy, in expectation that in this New World anything would be possible to a man strong enough to reach for it. They came in darkness and they came in chains."

That clear governmental acknowledgment of slavery came from President Johnson's 1965 speech when he signed the Voting Rights Act.

So, the second "whereas" in the joint resolution is clearly in error, but the third "whereas" is downright offensive.

"Whereas, The 2001 United Nations World Conference Against Racism held in Durban, South Africa, acknowledged that the transatlantic slave trade and slavery were crimes against humanity ..."

Oh, you don't say? Didn't European countries say that, long before African and Arab ones did, by abolishing slavery and the trans-Atlantic slave trade in the 19th century? Didn't African and Arab countries -- some of which no doubt were at that America/Israel-bashing fest in Durban -- continue slavery and the slave trade well into the 20th century? Don't at least two of those countries do it in the 21st? The good senators and delegates from Maryland responsible for this resolution don't need to be told what still goes on in Mauritania and Sudan, because they already know it.

Remember, the Maryland resolution is in support of Michigan Congressman Conyers' proposal to study slavery and its subsequent effects on African-Americans today. Considering "whereas No. 3" in the Maryland resolution, you have to wonder how objective any commission would be and how thorough the study.

American slavery may not have been as black and white as reparations supporters think. Black historian J.A. Rogers, in Volume II of his Sex and Race trilogy, said that as late as 1818 there were free black Marylanders who bought white slaves.

These legislators had best be careful what they wish for. They may find themselves paying out money instead of receiving it.

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