Dover City Council decides to promote a formal apology for slavery in Delaware, although the resolution had its detractors on council.
Dover City Council voted Feb. 22 to endorse a resolution urging the General Assembly to issue a formal apology for slavery in Delaware and its after effects.
The resolution was formulated by the Dover Human Relations Commission after two years of deliberations, public meetings and discussion on the issue.
Five council members voted in favor of the resolution: Reuben Salters, Gene Ruane, Jim McGiffin, Tim Slavin and Sophia Russell. Councilmen Tom Leary and Ken Hogan as well as council President Beverly Williams voted against it. Councilman William McGlumphy was absent from the meeting.
Before introducing a motion to approve the resolution, Salters offered his strong endorsement and some thoughtful remarks on the issue.
“A true apology from the heart and conscience of each individual is what matters,” he said. “The mere mention of an apology does not clean the slate.”
Ruane took the opportunity to remind his colleagues of the need to apologize for the deeds of past Dover councils. Citing city records, he listed instances from the 1920s to the 1950s where the council voted to uphold and extend laws of segregation.
“We can’t make up for what we did, but we can recognize it and move on,” he said.
Arguing in opposition to the resolution, Leary said an apology means nothing coming from a group that had nothing to do with promulgating the injustice in the first place.
“You shall not visit the sins of the father upon the son, or those of the grandfather or even of the great-grandfather,” he said. “When do we stop looking back and start looking forward? I can’t support going back and apologizing for something that happened some time ago.”
Hogan said he couldn’t support the apology because it’s too narrowly focused on the social crimes committed against blacks.
“My problem is, it’s not comprehensive. We’re only apologizing to one group,” he said.
Across American history, Hogan said, discrimination has been visited upon Native Americans and scores of European immigrant groups in the years after they arrived in this country.
“They also deserve an apology,” he said. “Time after time, this happens in history.”
After the vote, the few supporters present who had participated in the vetting process filed out of council chambers with looks of quiet satisfaction on their faces.
Newark resident Syl Woolford, who attended numerous Human Relations Commission meetings as the apology was drafted, said he was pleased the council had the will to pass the resolution.
“I’m extremely happy,” he said. “Obviously now we have to get to the General Assembly and do some things there.”
As for the council members who did not support the resolution, Woolford said it will be an ongoing struggle to build consensus around the issue.
“There are opinions which obviously oppose it,” he said. “The problem becomes that somehow we need to bring the whole human family together.”
In other business…
Members of council indicated their support for the idea, but said the city should draft its own letter after examining the issue in council’s Legislative, Finance and Administration Committee.
“I certainly agree with the sentiment of the letter,” said Councilman Jim McGiffin. “It’s critical to the city for Dover Downs [Hotel & Casino] to be maintained.”
Email Doug Denison at firstname.lastname@example.org