Connecticut lawmakers consider apology for slavery

Connecticut legislators are considering making their state the first in New England to apologize for slavery and other racist policies of old.

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) âÄî Connecticut legislators are considering making their state the first in New England to apologize for slavery and other racist policies of old. A legislative committee heard testimony Monday on 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 state’s African-American Affairs Commission, a liaison between black communities and the government, is urging legislators to pass the resolution, which it has called “an exercise in reconciliation” and not an effort to determine fault for slavery. The commission’s legislative analyst, Frank Sykes, told the legislature’s Government Administration and Elections Committee that “opportunities like this must be seized,” especially in light of the “giant stride” the country took last November in electing its first black president, Barack Obama. “While this is encouraging,” Sykes said, “it should inspire us and challenge us to continue peeling away at the layers of racial discrimination and intolerance.” New Jersey last year became the first Northern state to apologize for slavery, and at least five other states have done so. Of Connecticut’s population of 3.5 million people, about 10 percent are black, according to U.S. Census estimates for 2007. John A. Stewart, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Hartford, said he believes the differences between blacks and whites in the state stem from Connecticut’s participation in slavery. Among full-time workers in the state, black men earn 70 percent of what white men earn. Black men in the state also are four times more likely than 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, citing U.S. Census data. “Slavery has left a cultural burden on both the exploited and the exploiters that still permeates our society,” Stewart said. The resolution says slavery was practiced in Connecticut from the 17th through 19th centuries. 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. The resolution mentions how Connecticut’s wealth grew as merchants participated in the Triangle Trade, which carried slaves, crops and goods among West Africa, the Caribbean and America. It also mentions how Connecticut legislators rejected emancipation bills in 1777, 1779 and 1780 and how the new state Constitution in 1818 specifically denied the right of blacks to vote. But it later mentions how Connecticut changed its ways and played a key role in abolition efforts, culminating in the outlawing of slavery in 1848. The resolution would need to be voted on by the Government Administration and Elections Committee, possibly next week, before going to the House of Representatives and then the Senate.