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State leaders weigh-in on slavery apology
Al Williams Office 1
State Rep. Al Williams works in his Atlanta office - photo by Courier file photo
As members of the Georgia General Assembly returned to the Capitol on Monday, debates were already stirring over whether Georgia should follow in the footsteps of other states and apologize for its involvement in a dark part of American history.  
Following the Georgia National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s request earlier this month for Gov. Sonny Perdue to issue an official apology for the state’s role in slavery, lawmakers under the Gold Dome have been locked in a dispute over the necessity of such action.
“It’s according to whose eyes you’re looking through whether it’s necessary,” Rep. Al Williams (D-Midway) said. “But if the cradle of the Confederacy (Virginia) can apologize, what in the world is wrong with Georgia doing even better?”
Williams, who is circulating a four-page draft measure modeled after the recent unanimously passed Virginia General Assembly resolution expressing “profound regret” for slavery, said he was confident a Georgia apology could gain support once “the whole story” was presented.
The representative, however, has been slow to release the details of his “work in progress,” stating only that it “addresses some of the things that happened during slavery and expresses regret for the atrocities.”
Senate President Pro Tempore Eric Johnson (R-Savannah) has been working with the representative to clarify further language within the measure, hoping to create identical proposals for their respective chambers.   
According to one report, the draft currently reads that “the vestiges of slavery are ever before African-American citizens, from the overt racism of hate groups to the subtle racism encountered when requesting health care, transacting business, buying a home, seeking quality public education and college admission and enduring pretextual traffic stops and other indignities.”
Johnson said such wording is a source of concern.
“I don’t like this ‘the vestiges of slavery are still with us today,’” the senator said in a press conference on Friday. “I think both sides want to be as positive as you can be. Positive with the wording and the actions that we take.”
Previously, Johnson called the idea of an apology for slavery “rather silly” and said “the descendants of slaves would be far better off if their leaders focused on improving education and creating good jobs.”
After meetings with Williams, Rep. Tyrone Brooks (D-Atlanta) and Georgia Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond, however, he said understands the importance of recognizing the state’s slave past.
“As a Georgian and as a Georgia legislator, acknowledging our role, expressing regret for it and looking for resolution and reconciliation as we go forward, particularly with the sesquicentennial coming of the Civil War, is maybe appropriate for us to do,” Johnson said.
Other state lawmakers remain unsupportive.
“I take the same approach to this that I have to all (requests for) apologies,” House Speaker Glenn Richardson (R-Hiram) recently told reporters. “I am not certain government ought to be apologizing.”
Gov. Sonny Perdue, after days of declining to comment on the issue, said he was skeptical about the sincerity of an apology from those in office today.
“Repentance comes from the heart,” Perdue said on Monday. “I’m not sure about public apologies on behalf of other people as far as motivation for them.”
The governor said he has not met “anyone in Georgia who is not regretful and repentant” about the enslavement of African-Americans, but added state leaders should look toward the future.
“I think we’re called to live our lives and inspire our citizens to live their lives so that our children and grandchildren have nothing to apologize for,” Perdue said.
With Crossover Day — the 30th day in the session when all bills need to have passed in at least one of the chambers — here, it is rare for a resolution filed this late in the session to pass.
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