A Race Editorial With Substance
Make the apology meaningful
At last, Florida apologized for the enslavement of African Americans within its borders. My grandmother's father was a slave in Gadsden County; so, why don't I feel better?
Maybe it's because the apology is a meaningless act that only a dolt or outright racist would oppose. It cost the state nothing and of course, there was not a word about the thorny question of reparations. As one of the African Americans to whom the apology was aimed, it was not enough. Frankly, I would love to get a reparations check but how is the state to determine who gets paid and who does not? The complexity of the issue is sufficient grounds for the state to recoil at the very thought of reparations. Beyond the messiness of it, any white legislator who voted for reparations would be road kill back at home. Florida whites today are unwilling to pay for the sins of their fathers, especially since they may not even have been the sins of their fathers, given that so many whites have migrated to Florida from some place else.
In light of these obstacles, not to mention the cost of reparations, what Florida and other states of the Old South should be considering is how to pay reparations to African Americans as a whole, rather than to individuals. Gov. Charlie Crist says he is open to reasonable ideas regarding reparations. Here are some suggestions:
• First, help us to find out about our slave ancestry in Florida. Since the state and the various counties have detailed records of who was owned by whom those records should be digitized and made available to anyone who wishes to research his or her ancestral history in Florida during the time of slavery. These records exist in great detail in tax records, wills, estate records, probate court records, etc. In order to accomplish this, the state should fund a permanent position for an archivist at Florida A&M University whose sole duty would be to digitize and make those records available to the public.
• Second, Florida should erect a monument in Tallahassee commemorating and honoring enslaved African Americans who contributed, albeit under the whip, mightily to the early growth of the state. Most people in the state may prefer to bury slavery rather than memorialize it but monuments are erected to many horrible things including the Holocaust, wars and epidemics. Why not to slavery?
• Third, Florida should ensure that this uncomfortable past of its history is not lost nor the contributions of those who suffered under it forgotten. The state should sponsor the making of a broadcast-quality documentary film such as those done by noted documentary filmmaker Ken Burns on the history of slavery in the state. The film in DVD form should be placed in every public school in Florida.
• Finally, education is the great equalizer. Given that it was illegal in Florida to teach slaves to read, 1,000 fully-paid college scholarships to Florida colleges and universities should be made available each year to African-American students who can establish that their ancestry was enslaved in Florida. Those students would be required to meet the same admissions criteria as other applicants.
We African Americans have some emotional work to do, too. Bury the anger. Don't hold whites who had nothing to do with slavery responsible for happened to our ancestors. I know the counter argument, ''They may not have owned slaves but they are the direct beneficiaries of those who did.'' True, but to quote Vice-President Dick Cheney: ''So?'' Meaning, what are they to do about that? Change color? The open wound on Florida's soul that was slavery can never be excised by any means other than exposure to the clear light of day. The apology provides a whiff of fresh air but like most deep infections, true healing requires a continuous breeze.