HARTFORD, Conn. — Connecticut may soon become the second Northern state to apologize for slavery, segregation and other racist policies its lawmakers once condoned.
The state House of Representatives voted unanimously after emotional testimony last Thursday to approve a resolution expressing “profound contrition” for the General Assembly’s role in perpetuating slavery and other practices.
Slavery was practiced in Connecticut in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries before it was abolished in 1848. About 5,100 slaves lived in the Connecticut colony in the mid-1770s, or about 3 percent of the population.
State Rep. Ernest Hewett told fellow legislators that slavery’s legacy remains painful and that the apology is meaningful, even though none of today’s lawmakers were complicit.
Hewett, a New London Democrat and descendant of a North Carolina slave, still carries the surname of that ancestor’s owner.
“There is no one living in this state of Connecticut that I blame for what happened to my ancestors, no one in this chamber … but this body allowed something to go on that they knew was wrong, and all I’m asking for is a simple apology,” said Hewett, who is black.
Connecticut representatives, who followed their unanimous vote with a standing ovation, sent the resolution to the state Senate for a vote. They also added a provision to emphasize that the apology is not meant to provide grounds for reparation claims, lawsuits or other legal actions.
Lawmakers of several ethnicities and both political parties supported the measure.
“When I talk to people today and they say, ‘Why today, what does an apology mean?’ one of the things that I particularly [say] … is that in order to move on, sometimes you have to acknowledge that mistakes have been made,” said state Rep. Kenneth Green, a black Democrat from Hartford.
New Jersey last year became the first Northern state to apologize for slavery. Five other states — Alabama, Florida, Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia — have approved similar measures.
Connecticut was an early leader in the mid-1800s abolition movement, but only after nearly three centuries of allowing and profiting from slavery within its own borders.
Connecticut legislators rejected emancipation bills in 1777, 1779 and 1780, and its new state constitution in 1818 specifically denied blacks the right to vote.
“Some have said, ‘Hey, I wasn’t even around, I had nothing to do with it, my family wasn’t even living in the country at the time,’ and this is all true, but this isn’t an apology on behalf of individuals,” said state House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, who is white.
“This is of such significance because in certain instances, we as an institution condoned, and in some cases perpetuated, the institution of slavery,” he said.