Thursday, January 3, 2008

"New Jersey may apologize for slavery"

(CNN) -- Legislators in New Jersey are debating whether to apologize for slavery.

The symbolic atonement, if approved, would follow apologies for human bondage made last year by legislators in Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia.

New Jersey was the last northern state to abolish slavery, in 1846. It could become the first northern state to apologize if the state's General Assembly adopts a resolution championed by Assemblyman William Payne.

"New Jersey, with as many as 12,000 slaves, had one of the largest populations of captive Africans in the northern colonies," Payne's resolution reads.

The assembly has scheduled a hearing on the resolution for this week.

The resolution says New Jersey also had one of the most severe slave codes in the north. In addition, it says, the state was one of the few in the north to sanction the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which allowed authorities in non-slave states to capture escaped slaves and return them to their owners.

If the legislature adopts the resolution, Gov. Jon Corzine would decide whether to sign it into law.

Similar resolutions have stirred strong emotions and controversy elsewhere. Some legislators argue that the legacy of slavery has been so devastating to African-Americans that states should formally repudiate laws that allowed bondage.

Others say legislators should not apologize for things that happened so long ago.

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