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Cohen calls for slavery apology

Steve Cohen
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Discrimination's effects linger, he says

By Bartholomew Sullivan
February 28, 2007

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., took to the House floor Tuesday to speak in favor of his bill sponsoring an apology for 246 years of slavery and 100 years of Jim Crow discrimination.

"This country needs to apologize for the brutal and inhumane system of slavery and Jim Crow laws," Cohen said in the 90-second speech.

Cohen said Tuesday evening that his bill has already picked up 36 co-sponsors, including Democratic U.S. Reps. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, Charles Rangell of New York and Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island.

Cohen commended the Virginia General Assembly which on Saturday became the first state of the old Confederacy to express "profound regret" for the "involuntary servitude" of African-Americans and the "exploitation" of Native Americans. It stopped short of an apology and far short of calling for reparations.

Cohen said the discrimination faced by African-Americans "ended by law in the 1960s," but that its effects linger. He suggested that both President Bush, in a speech in Senegal, as well as former President Clinton, have expressed similar sentiments about the legacy of slavery.

No president has apologized for the nation's role in permitting slavery.

Cohen serves on the House Judiciary Committee whose chairman, U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., has since the 1980s sought creation of a presidential commission to study the legacy of slavery that could make recommendations, which could include reparations. It has never reached a president's desk.

In an unrelated matter, Cohen's Longworth House Office Building was evacuated Tuesday after reports of smoke in the credit union offices directly beneath his. Cohen said he evacuated to a nearby building until he was permitted to return.

Bartholomew Sullivan: 202-408-2726

See Cohen's entire floor speech here:

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