Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

State's gesture on slavery was rich with meaning

There was a good moment in the state Legislature this week, a place that doesn't see enough of them.

Republicans and Democrats, the House and the Senate, all unanimously approved a resolution apologizing for the part Florida played in slavery.

"Be it resolved &," the proclamation read, "that the Legislature expresses its profound regret for Florida's role in sanctioning and perpetuating involuntary servitude upon generations of African slaves.

"Be it further resolved that the Legislature calls for healing and reconciliation among all residents of the state."

Sure was a long way from the days when a Florida governor described "persons of African descent" as "an animal, in the form of a man."

(By the way, our current model, Gov. Charlie Crist, indicated that day he would be at least open to the idea of reparations for descendents of slaves as well. One black lawmaker told Times reporter Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler he appreciated the governor's comment, but that would be unlikely given the cost and controversy. Besides, reparations were not what this resolution was about.)

Obviously, this was not the trendy of-the-moment apology we've grown numb to these days, the kind where "I'm sorry" should be followed by "that I got caught." That's the one we get when some celebutante gets busted for DUI or some famous person lets an ugly thought slip or some bad-boy politician gets popped in a public bathroom.

This was something different, something large and nonpartisan and apparently heartfelt.

Yes, it was purely symbolic.

Yes, it was just a gesture.

It was also a workday moment that moved more than one person present to tears, pretty remarkable for a group in which you might assume a distinct lack of functional tear ducts.

So, a question here.

Could someone please explain how a public acknowledgment of a historic wrong that took up not much time on a Wednesday in Tallahassee was offensive?

On newspaper Web sites that posted the story, not a few readers decried the event as a joke, a waste of tax dollars, a distraction from real issues. (Like whether to legislate how much underwear a kid's pants should be allowed to expose, maybe?)

"Why should I apologize?" a reader wrote. "I didn't own any slaves."

"Get over it!" said another.

Some said the message was so obvious and the subject so archaic that this was a waste of time. There is evidence to the contrary.

It is not news to you that struggles over race have hardly disappeared (see Jena, La.). The hate crime statute has not rendered itself obsolete. It wasn't so long ago that a man named Christopher Wilson, a black visitor here from New York, was attacked by white men who doused him in gasoline and set him on fire for no other reason than the color of his skin.

Does a symbolic apology from the state of Florida (not to mention those from the states of Alabama, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina and Virginia) change history?

Of course not.

Does it fix wrongs that still plague us?

Of course it doesn't.

It was a gesture, but one with meaning.

And for those who appreciated the moment, the message was clear: This is not who we are.

State's gesture on slavery was rich with meaning 03/28/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 1, 2008 12:46pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Drinking alcohol on St. Pete Beach beaches now allowed — for hotel guests only

    Local Government

    ST. PETE BEACH — Guests at gulf-front hotels here can now drink alcoholic beverages in permitted hotel beach cabana areas.

    Guests relax on the beach near the Don Cesar at St. Pete Beach. Guests at gulf-front hotels in St. Pete Beach can now drink alcoholic beverages in permitted hotel beach cabana areas after the change was passed unanimously by the City Commission Tuesday night. Residents and other beachgoers who are not registered guests of the hotels continue to be barred from imbibing anywhere on the city's beaches.
  2. Man found floating in 'Cotee River in New Port Richey

    Public Safety

    NEW PORT RICHEY — A body was found floating in the Pithlachascotee River on Tuesday morning, police said.

  3. More than 13,000 fact-checks later, PolitiFact celebrates 10-year mark


    ST. PETERSBURG — Bill Adair still remembers the moment when he realized his idea to fact-check politicians could turn into something big.

    (from left to right) Aaron Sharockman, Politifact executive director introduces a panel featuring Angie Holan, Politifact editor; PolitiFact founder Bill Adair and Tampa Bay Times Editor and Vice President Neil Brown at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg on Tuesday. The event celebrated 10 years of PolitiFact and its growth since 2007. The panel discussed the history of the organization and how it goes about fact-checking. [EVE EDELHEIT | Times]
  4. Trump, McConnell feud threatens GOP agenda


    The relationship between President Donald Trump and Sen. Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, has disintegrated to the point that they have not spoken to each other in weeks, and McConnell has privately expressed uncertainty that Trump will be able to salvage his administration after a series of summer crises.

    Sen. Mitch McConnell has fumed over Trump’s criticism.
  5. Former Sen. Greg Evers, advocate for law enforcement, dead at 62.

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — Former State Sen. Greg Evers, the Baker Florida strawberry farmer and veteran politician, was killed in a single car crash hear his home in Okaloosa County. The Florida Highway Patrol confirmed the death late Tuesday, but deferred any further information pending an investigation. He was 62.

    Former Florida Senator Greg Evers, R- Milton, was a passionate advocate for law enforcement and corrections officers. He was found dead Tuesday afternoon in a car crash. He was 62. [SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times]