Who would have thought a simple apology 142 years after the fact would be so controversial? Yesterday the Alabama House approved Rep. Mary Moore’s (D, Birmingham) resolution apologizing for slavery. They did it on an unrecorded voice vote.
The Senate also approved a similar resolution, sponsored by Sen. Hank Sanders, (D, Selma) on a 22-7 vote. The Senate vote was strictly along party lines with no Democrat voting against the resolution and no Republican voting for it. The following Republicans abstained:
Brooks, B. (Mobile)
Byrne, B. (Montrose)
French, S. (Birmingham)
Marsh, D. (Anniston)
Orr, A. (Decatur).
Maybe the hypocrisy was just too much for them to stomach.
Those who opposed the slavery apology sought cover by employing the argument that “an apology would open the door for the state to be sued for reparations.” Section 14 of the Alabama Constitution gives the state immunity from private suits, so that seems like the standard Republican red herring of “this will cost the taxpayers money” that they trot out every time something comes up that they oppose, but don’t want to state the real reason for their opposition. In this case, Sen. Charles Bishop, (R, Jasper), a vocal opponent of the resolution, did not want to be seen as racist for his stand. “What I am is somebody who hates to see lawyers take advantage of the General Fund of the state of Alabama and suck it like a leech,” he said. But not a racist!
Both sponsors agreed to add language that said the resolutions were not intended to be used as the basis for lawsuits, which was enough to get them passed. The resolutions still have to be approved by the other house and then signed by Gov. Riley to take effect. Even though he is a Republican, Riley has said he would sign an apology as long as it did not include a provision for the state to pay reparations. Riley has better sense than some Republicans in the state senate.
For the life of me, I cannot see why this is so hard. Both these resolutions are simple statements of regret and apology for a wrong and and injustice that happened in the past. It will make some of our citizens feel better that this has been acknowledged and it will make those in other states and countries see Alabama as a state that is shedding its racist baggage and moving forward into the twenty-first century. About time!