Alabama State Legislature: Apologize for What?

April 16, 2007

Alabama State Legislature: Apologize for What?


Ted Burnett

Considered by historians as the last greatest U.S. President, Abraham Lincoln had the courage—the guts—to carry out what the first 15 Presidents could not or would not do, including Washington and Jefferson. Or as some of Lincoln’s critics might argue, he was simply the consummate politician in picking an issue what would galvanize the Union and its Army against the Confederacy.

He signed by executive order the Emancipation Proclamation Act of 1863, thus setting free slaves for the first time in the United States. After the South surrendered and rejoined the Union, did anyone or any government supporting the importation of cheap labor to fuel an agrarian economy across the United States ever apologize? Did anyone apologize for making profits on the backs of an entire race while they suffered?

Did anyone ever apologize for splitting up and selling off African family units whose vestiges of broken homes still play out today? The 1901 state constitution was rewritten after the war to reestablish white supremacy, and secret and not so secret societies were form to intimidate blacks and keep them as second-class citizens, whatever second-class means. Obstacles like poll taxes and literacy tests were created. Did anyone apologize for that?

They worked in our houses as cooks, maids, and nannies; they fed us, cleaned up after us and raised us for dimes and dollars. Their men worked in our yards and on our homes for pennies. Yet, an unspoken code to them was to never be found on the property after sundown. God forbid our neighbors think they lived with us. Today, either out of guilt and shame or maybe in delayed thanks, some of us now visit them in their homes bringing a hot meal or a small check; their aging bodies and minds forever retired.

All sorts of laws, written both locally and at the state capitals, kept things “separate but equal.” We hit them with our billy-clubs, bit them with our dogs, sprayed them with tear gas and soaked them as they marched, while the world watched in horror. On one Sunday morning on 16th Street, a church was bombed, killing four little angels. When the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed, Confederate flags flew above Capitol domes throughout Dixie in indignation and in more rebellion. Has anyone since apologized? The white man was always privileged to ride on the front of the bus while the slaves’ grandchildren sat in the back. Blacks lined up at the back of restaurants to eat and not at the counter along side their white peers. It was anything but “equal.”

Industry was located in the voiceless black communities and plenty of miles away from the white middle class neighborhoods. Blacks were taught in schools of shambles with hardly any textbooks or a library. We kept them out of our colleges and locked them up in our newly built jails and prisons. Did anyone apologize for that? We rejected them then and we reject them now. We called them names then, like animals and niggers and we hate their rap music, the sight of their graffiti-covered bodies and nappy heads now.

After the war, we could have brought this free race into our fold, under our wing and more quickly integrated them into our culture. The opposite happened. They were no longer an asset on the books of white society; we turned our backs on them. In 1896, the United States Supreme Court upheld segregation in the case, Plessy vs. Ferguson, thus allowing U.S. states and local municipalities to mandate racial segregation. The fallout—they have their culture, we have ours, and they don’t seem to mix very well. You reap what you sow.

Talk show host Dr. Phil McGraw regularly tells his guests, “We cannot change what we don’t acknowledge.”

Should the Alabama State Legislature apologize? I think so. Maybe we should all apologize for letting things get to this sad and dilapidated state that they are in. For me, just simply saying how sorry I am seems so cheap, so shallow, so empty–almost pathetic.

All I can really say is that I am aware. I am aware of the state of our relations with one another, the condition of many of your communities, the statistics about drugs, gangs, and everyday crime and violence along your streets.

I am aware of those lost young black men sitting on front porches smoking whatever and sipping on a bottle of cheap alcohol watching another day go by, along with their dreams, as if they ever had any really to begin with. The only safety net they can always count on, ready to catch them when they fall, is the criminal justice system with its emphasis more criminal and less on justice. This whole situation seems criminal.

It’s the year 2007 and they appear to be slaves to yet another system. Not much seems to have changed. I am aware of these things and more. I am aware.

Copyright 2007, 2010 All Rights Reserved. “Alabama State Legislature: Apologize for What?” by Ted Burnett

I am available for speaking, consulting and political advising. My other essays can be viewed at my blog – I can be contacted via email at – My biography can be viewed at

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