African-Americans wonder: Will Clinton apologize for slavery?
June 21, 1997
From Correspondent Jim Hill
ALLENSWORTH, California (CNN) -- For many African-Americans, Juneteenth is something of a black Independence Day, a celebration of slavery's demise.
But this year, the holiday that is observed on June 19 in many African-American communities had special significance, because of speculation over whether President Clinton will apologize for America's legacy of slavery.
At a Juneteenth celebration in Allensworth, California -- a town founded in 1908 by a former slave -- there was mixed reaction to the proposal. Some participants described a presidential apology as a step in the right direction; others said it is unnecessary.
The question of an apology seems fitting for Juneteenth.
On June 19, 1865, Gen. Gordon Granger and his troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to spread the word there and in surrounding states of President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation and to force landowners to free their slaves.
The proclamation was delivered January 1, 1863, which meant Texas didn't learn of the new law for two years. There is some debate over whether Juneteeth was first celebrated in Texas or Louisiana.
Clinton apologizes to other groups
Clinton recently apologized to the survivors of Tuskegee syphilis experiments, during which black men suffering from syphilis were left untreated for years so the government could study the disease.
And earlier, the president did the same for some undecorated black World War II heroes. In 1988, an official apology was made to the Japanese-Americans held in U.S. prison camps during World War II.
While the United States has a history of making apologies, it also has a history of backing up its words with something of more material worth. Both the victims of Tuskegee and Japanese-American camps received reparations along with the apologies.
In Allensworth, the idea of financial payments has strong appeal. But even a simple apology may not occur, because of the opposition of some lawmakers.
"If you want to see a great apology for slavery, go to the Lincoln Memorial and read Lincoln's second address," House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Georgia, said.
Clinton still hasn't decided whether to apologize over the issue of slavery. "To say that it's wrong and that we're sorry about it is not a bad thing," he has said.
Even if an apology is made, many African-Americans feel the nation still faces a long healing process from the discrimination.
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