A Virginia legislator created a stir recently by saying Whites living today shouldn't apologize for slavery.
If subjugation of African Americans had ended with slavery, that would be one thing. But the rancid stench of state-sponsored racism extended well into the 1960s. So, if there is to be an apology in Virginia or any other state, it should not be limited to slavery.
Consider the following, taken from the National Park Service Web site, that I recount in some of my speeches:
From the 1800s into the mid-1960s, there were Jim Crow laws mandating separation of the races. They were comprehensive, covering every imaginable circumstance such as toilet facilities, railroads, buses, education, the selling of wine and beer, restaurants, housing, parks, hospital entrances, prisons, textbooks, libraries, circus tickets, theaters, reform schools, fishing, lunch counters, telephone booths, cemeteries, and intermarriage. (See excepts of Jim Crow laws at: www.nps.gov/malu/documents/jim_crow_laws.htm)r
Let's look at a few of them:
North Carolina had a law that said: "Books shall not be interchangeable between the White and colored schools, but shall continue to be used by the race first using them."
Mississippi: "There shall be maintained by the governing authorities of every hospital maintained by the state for treatment of White and colored patients separate entrances for White and colored patients and visitors, and such entrances shall be used by the race only for which they are prepared."
Georgia had one governing mental hospitals that provided: "The Board of Control shall see that proper and distinct apartments are arranged for said patients, so that in no case shall Negroes and White persons be together."
If you were mentally ill, you couldn't be together in Georgia. Louisiana even kept blind people apart. Its law stated, "The board of trustees shall … maintain a separate building … on separate ground for the admission, care, instruction and support of all blind persons of the colored or Black race."
Blacks and Whites not only couldn't interact on a normal basis while they were alive, they were even kept apart after they had died.
A Georgia law stated, "The officer in charge shall not bury, or allow to be buried, any colored persons upon ground set apart or used for the burial of White persons."
These Jim Crow laws were rigorously enforced against children as well as adults.
Not only could the Jim Crow laws not be violated, Southern customs were also enforced.
In 1951 — three years before the Brown decision — Mark Ingram, a Black man in Yanceyville, N.C., was prosecuted for assault with intent to rape because, standing 70 feet away, he supposedly "undressed" a 17-year-old White girl with his eyes. That became known as "reckless eyeballing."
We all know about Emmett Till, the 14-year-old boy who was murdered in Mississippi in 1955 for allegedly whistling at a White woman. He was brutally beaten, shot in the head and thrown into a river.
In 1958, in Monroe, N.C., two Black boys – Fuzzy Simpson, age 7, and Hanover Thompson, age 9, were invited to join a group of five White children, including two girls. One of the girls remembered that she had played with Hanover when his mother worked as a maid in her family's house. Overjoyed at being reunited with her old playmate, she kissed him on the cheek.
That wasn't quite the kiss of death but it was close. When the girl innocently told her mother, the two boys were arrested and convicted of attempted rape. The Juvenile Court judge sentenced Fuzzy to 12 years in jail and Hanover to 14. Fortunately, there was a public outcry and President Eisenhower got the governor to intervene.
What we collectively refer to as Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka produced three Brown decisions. The first one, in 1954, outlawed "separate but equal" schools because they violated the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. The second one, handed down on May 31, 1955, held that school must be desegregated "with all deliberate speed." Of course, "all deliberate speed" ended up being almost no speed at all. The third Brown case was filed in U.S. District Court in Topeka on Nov. 19, 1979 by a group of parents, including Linda Brown, whose father was the lead plaintiff in the original case. They charged that Topeka still refused "to fully carry out" the 1954 court decision.
An appeals court agreed with them, saying: "Topeka has not sufficiently countered the effects of both the momentum of its pre-Brown segregation and its subsequent acts in the 1960s." That order was not lifted until 1999.
Yes, there is plenty to apologize for, but it doesn't stop with slavery.
George E. Curry is editor-in-chief of the NNPA News Service and BlackPressUSA.com.