Va. Delegate Proposes Juneteenth Measure
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
RICHMOND, Jan. 22 -- The Virginia lawmaker who caused an uproar last week by questioning the need for a state apology for slavery proposed a measure Monday that would commemorate the freeing of the last U.S. slaves in June 1865.
Del. Frank D. Hargrove Sr., a Republican from Hanover County near Richmond, said he has been deluged with at least 4,000 phone calls and e-mails at his home and office since he inflamed the House of Delegates by saying that blacks should "get over" slavery and that apologizing for slavery was no more necessary than asking Jews to apologize for "killing Christ."
Hargrove said the vast majority of people who contacted him said they support his views, but he also said that he never intended to offend blacks or Jews. He offered the resolution in part to reach out to those he offended, he said.
"I think we can all agree that the end of slavery was a good thing," Hargrove said.
Black lawmakers said they are happy to support Hargrove's resolution to celebrate Juneteenth, but not if it is meant to replace theirs, which calls for Virginia to apologize for its role in slavery. The resolution is intended to coincide with the state's celebration of the 400th anniversary of the English settlement of Jamestown, where slaves first arrived in 1619.
"I can't question anybody else's motives," said Sen. Henry L. Marsh III, a Richmond Democrat and a sponsor of the apology proposal. "But obviously that resolution doesn't address the issues that we are trying to address."
Hargrove's resolution would celebrate Juneteenth, the widely observed name for the June 19, 1865, event in Galveston, Tex., in which federal troops are believed to have informed the country's last slaves that they were free. A number of organizations and jurisdictions celebrate Juneteenth to commemorate the moment when emancipation, foreseen in President Abraham Lincoln's 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, was finally recognized across the nation.
But Del. A. Donald McEachin (D-Richmond), another sponsor of the slavery apology, said it's one thing to recognize the end of slavery and quite another to offer an apology for Virginia's extensive role in it. McEachin thinks an apology is necessary to heal a state and a nation still divided by race.
Last week, the Richmond lawyer objected to Hargrove's assertion that "not a soul in this legislature" had anything to do with slavery. McEachin said he still hears stories from his 102-year-old grandmother about her parents, who were slaves in Virginia and North Carolina.
"Virginia didn't have anything to do with the Emancipation Proclamation," McEachin said. "It had a lot to do with establishing slavery here."
Hargrove said his measure is not intended to replace the apology. "I have no problem with that one going ahead," he said. "I won't vote for it, but I don't intend to block it, either."