ATLANTA – State Sen. Barry Loudermilk (R-North Cobb) has filed a resolution that, if approved, would mark the state’s first official expression of remorse for condoning slavery.
But the move appears to have stopped just shy of an official apology.
“I think this is a very historical moment in the state of Georgia,” Loudermilk said during a press conference Thursday.
While there have been several attempts by the Legislature to apologize for Georgia’s past involvement in slavery, most recently in 2009, they have so far failed to pass.
Loudermilk said he was approached by a group of pastors who asked him to file the resolution.
“I can only tell you what they told me is, one, they felt this needed to come from a white member of the Legislature because it would be more meaningful than if it came from within the Black Caucus,” he said. “And, two, they said they believed that I had a pure heart and I would be doing (this) out of pureness not out of political gain.”
Some legislators may cringe at the idea of shining a light on a practice that was abolished nearly 150 years ago by the Civil War, but Loudermilk believes it’s still relevant.
“I think you have to recognize and we have to as a people come up and condemn the actions of our past if we’re going to reconcile the differences between the races,” he said. “I think this is a barrier between some of our races, between black Georgians and white Georgians and black Americans and white Americans even though no one living today in this state or nation was enslaved by this government, but yet the descendants of those slaves did experience segregation and we have to acknowledge the sins of our past.”
Loudermilk said while some may consider the resolution an apology, he doubted that the Legislature could apologize for the actions of a previous legislature.
“I guess we really can’t because we cannot bind a future legislature to anything, but we can express sincere remorse for what our state as a government condoned and through legal actions allowed and that’s what this resolution does,” he said. “It acknowledges the injustice that was done upon a class of people because if we don’t recognize the wrongs of our past then we’re destined to repeat those in the future.”
Senate Resolution 28 is a joint House-Senate resolution that, if passed, would make Georgia the ninth state to express regret or apologize for the act of slavery.
On the federal level, Loudermilk said Congress was the first branch of government to formally issue an apology for slavery. Shortly thereafter, the following states issued apologies or expressed regret for their involvement in slavery: Connecticut, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia and New Jersey.
Loudermilk, a white legislator who represents a historically conservative district, said he doesn’t expect any serious opposition to the resolution.
“I couldn’t imagine that I do, but I’m sure there will be some that will say as an initial thought that I had when I was contacted, ‘well, I haven’t enslaved anyone and I don’t support slavery, why should I apologize,’”
But, in reality, it is the state recognizing that it was wrong in allowing slavery to be legal, Loudermilk said. “And, as our founders said, the utmost responsibility of our nation is to protect these rights, the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Loudermilk said the Declaration of Independence says such rights are inalienable – that they can’t be transferred or denied. Moreover, the rights, he said, are laws of nature and therefore superior to man’s laws.
“And it is ultimately our responsibility to support those,” he said. “I don’t see how you can get more conservative than those principles right there.”
Loudermilk said he had considered including other wronged groups in the resolution, but didn’t want it to become too broad.
“We actually considered the Cherokee Indians and the Trail of Tears in this resolution, but as we met with the citizens and members of clergy to work on this, they felt it was important to be very specific,” he said. “Let’s start here with the most egregious crime that we have committed against the laws of nature and then we can proceed from there. Of course the more narrow you make something the more meaningful it is.”
He declined to reveal the names of the pastors who approached him. He described them as “very prominent.”
Sue Everhart of east Cobb, chair of the Georgia Republican Party, said while she believes slavery was horrible, there is no need for such a resolution.
“I don’t think this is going to help anybody,” Everhart said. “I just think that is in our past. History is history. Are we going to apologize to Japan because we bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki to keep from killing more and more of our American citizens? Are we going to apologize to the Germans because we beat their butts in World War II? I mean, this could just go on and on and on.”
Everhart said the General Assembly has more important things to do than expressing regret for something that happened 150 years ago.
“Everybody needs to put it behind them and let’s move forward and see that nothing like that happens again, so as far as right now, our General Assembly needs to worry about the budget and making sure we don’t have to increase taxes and create jobs in Georgia,” she said.
Yet Deane Bonner, chair of the Cobb NAACP, said she hopes the resolution will pass.
“It would make a difference,” Bonner said. “We can’t change history, but I guess it would be on paper that we all acknowledged that it happened, and we think Georgia ought to say they regret it, and that would certainly be a positive statement for us to accept. If I did you wrong and I came up and apologized to you, I think you would appreciate that because it is in some ways saying I’m sorry. We commend him. We definitely commend him.”
State Rep. David Wilkerson, D-Austell, said he doesn’t see any reason why someone would oppose the resolution.
“Sometimes you have to acknowledge past mistakes or things that you may regret, and as legislators we do represent the state of Georgia, and it’s part of Georgia’s history, so it just gives us an opportunity to move forward as a state,” Wilkerson said.
Wilkerson also believes Loudermilk’s motives for proposing the resolution are sincere.
“Based on his district and who he represents, I couldn’t see a political benefit for him,” Wilkerson said. “He said he talked to the faith community, he talked to legislators, I would have to believe it was sincere.”
The resolution will be assigned to a committee and then voted on in the floor of the Senate before transferring over to the House.
Loudermilk said he’s spoken with state Rep. Josh Clark, R-Buford, about carrying it in the House. Clark stood by Loudermilk during the press conference.