Juneteenth, Slavery and (lack of) Forgiveness

by TomC on March 4, 2008 · 0 comments

Cross posted at Touch The Elbow

In an issue last week, buried in Section B of the Charleston Post and Courier was an article about Juneteenth, specifically that it looks very good that SC will soon be recognizing it – just not as a holiday.

In previous posts at Touch The Elbow (here and here) I have made it clear that I feel it is a celebration that should get more press. Unfortunately when it did, it was over violence that took place.

One of the posts even got a nice comment from Rev. Ronald V. Myers, Sr., M.D. Chairman of National Juneteenth Holiday Campaign, National Juneteenth Observance Foundation (NJOF) and National Juneteenth Christian Leadership Council (NJCLC) who is quoted in the article.

I am very surprised that it made it this far through the State House and now only one reading away before heading off to the State Senate. Things like this seem to drag forever, case in point the Sesquicentennial Legislation ( here and here – forgetting about the little argument I had with one State Senator’s office) which finally made it out of the Senate but is now stuck in a House committee (it should be used to a committee after this long though) and let us not forget of the recent Pitchfork Ben Statue legislation (here and here) either (which has had four actions on it so far – two of which were to add more sponsors).

But all that being said, it was the last two paragraphs of the article that sparked the most interest for me.

While five other states, including Alabama and North Carolina, have passed measures expressing regret or otherwise apologizing for slavery, those proposals have not gained much traction here.

“I don’t think that’s something we should do,” said House Speaker Bobby Harrell, a Charleston Republican and co-sponsor of the bill that would recognize Juneteenth.

It was the staunch opposition to apologize or regret that really got to me.

This especially hit home as just the other night, I listened to Franciscan Father Roderic “Rod” Petrie, OFM of the Franciscan Ministry of the Word, eloquently preach for an hour and fifteen minutes on the power of forgiveness. The part that was the strongest and I connected the most to was when he talked about it being human nature and ego, not to want to say you are sorry – because you have to be right. So he threw his belief that to just say that you are sorry can be so much more powerful, helpful, lifting and just plain right – then any other thing that you could do. At that point he encouraged all of us to just start saying that we are sorry and watch how much better our life would be. And as I listened, I realized just how correct he was.

Unfortunately Speaker Harrell did not have the opportunity to hear Father Rod or his colleague Father John Anglin, OFM (who due to his love of all Boston sports teams would get along just wonderfully with Donald) speak this week. So instead of talking of possibilities, he closes the door on any motion of regret or apology.

And while there is proposed legislation (H4506) within the House to offer a statement of regret – it is stuck in committee and if Representative Harrell’s statement foreshadows its fate, call the funeral home, it is as good as dead.

Which brings me to my parting thoughts.

Too often I hear, “Heritage not Hate” as a way to defend the honoring of those who fought for the Confederacy or upheld its ideals. To be honest, for the most part, I do understand where these folks are coming from. I have had the opportunity to talk to quite a few in-depth about their beliefs and generally came away knowing that they were not being racist for doing what they were doing – which was to remember their ancestors. Most are not looking to bring back slavery; they know that is hateful and wrong.

Unfortunately the fact is, South Carolina has a heritage of hate. How else can one describe enslaving another man or the creation of the Jim Crowe laws or segregation or the many other ways it legally kept a race in poverty? Yet we can’t even discuss an official apology according to the State Speaker of the House.

So I have to ask then, if we are now a civilized state; one that knows slavery, Jim Crowe and Segregation was not just wrong or hateful but evil– why can’t we just say, “I’m sorry.”

Or is the State ego just too big for that?

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