In celebration of Black History Month – and to officially apologize for the tragedy of legalizing and perpetuating slavery and the slave trade in New York – the Assembly passed a bill acknowledging and apologizing for it and establishing a commemorative day in tribute to those enslaved in New York (A.273-B).
For more than 200 years, slavery existed in what became New York State. Our government not only legalized the enslavement of Africans and their descendants, but also enacted slave codes – taxes on the sale of enslaved persons and fines payable to the local government or poor house administrators for their violations.
Our country has changed for the better since slavery was abolished, but much remains to be done to further equality along the path envisioned by civil rights leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and others whose struggle continues to this day. The African-American leaders of this country brought a new, previously unrealized era of tolerance, growth and opportunity for all. It is important we remember the values of these leaders so their leaders so their struggle is not forgotten.
Douglass wrote that “we have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and future.” I would add that we must never forget the crimes of the past if we are to successfully forge ahead to the future.
Douglass and Dr. King stood tall against the intolerance, racism and lack of opportunities of their day and promoted real change for Americans and New Yorkers. For those of us who serve in state government, that should be our goal as well.