© 2021 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Other

St. Louis lawmaker wants Missouri to apologize for slavery

2561767-237409653.jpg
Democrat Talibdin El-Amin, of St. Louis

By AP/KWMU

Jefferson City, MO – A Missouri lawmaker from St. Louis wants the state to formally apologize for permitting slavery.

Democrat Talibdin T.D. El-Amin says any group that has been wronged by state deserves an apology as recognition of that history.

Slaves were first brought to what is now Missouri in 1720 when it was a French colony. They worked in lead mines in St. Louis and Jefferson counties, with their numbers reaching more than 1,000 by 1860.

The resolution, which details the history of Missouri slavery, states that "an apology for centuries of brutal dehumanization and injustices cannot ease the past, but confession of the wrongs can speed racial healing and reconciliation."

El-Amin says Missouri should be one of the first states to apologize for slavery because the Dred Scott case, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that black people in the United States cannot sue, originated in Missouri.

"That case set a legal precedent, and I'm looking for Missouri to set another precedent and be one of the first states to apologize for slavery," El-Amin said Monday.

Missouri Supreme Court Justice Michael Wolff mentioned the Dred Scott case specifically last month in his annual address to lawmakers, calling it an "infamous" example of judges responding to politics rather than the law.

Virginia is considering a resolution that expresses the "profound regret" of that state's General Assembly for its role in slavery.

Slavery first came to Missouri in 1720 when Philippe Francois Renault brought 500 slaves to work in lead mines in the Des Peres River in St. Louis and Jefferson counties.

Missouri entered the union as a slave state as part of the 1820 Missouri Compromise, in which Maine became a free state at the same time. The decision set the stage for a violent rivalry with Kansas, a free state. By 1860, there were more than 1,000 slaves in 36 counties.

In the Civil War, Missouri units fought for both the Union and the Confederacy.

Supporters of the resolution say formally apologizing for the acceptance of slavery in Missouri is deserved.

Harold Crumpton, president of the St. Louis city chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said there also needs to be some concrete action, such as additional college scholarships for the descendants of slaves.

"They made this the wealthiest nation on the face of the earth and some consideration should be given to that contribution," Crumpton said. "Can you imagine millions of people working for free?"

State and federal governments, with few exceptions, have not apologized for official actions of the government. The federal government has officially apologized for the internment of Japanese-Americans in camps throughout the American West during World War II.

Last summer, the U.S. Senate apologized for not passing anti-lynching legislation sooner Southern Democrats regularly used procedural moves to block that legislation. Nationwide, there were more than 4,000 people killed by lynching between 1882-1968.

Vonita Foster, executive director of the United States National Slavery Museum, said she believed official apologies for slavery are an important step toward recognizing a key period in American history.

"If they condoned it, then they should offer an apology," Foster said. "Doing that is the healing and recognition that something wrong did happen, and they don't want to see that happen again."

The slavery museum, scheduled to open in 2009, is being built in Fredericksburg, Va.

El-Amin said that any group that has been wronged by state sanction deserves an apology as recognition of that history. "Why apologize after these 142 years? Because we haven't apologized in 142 years," he said.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.