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Boston City Council unanimously votes to apologize for city's past support of slavery

The City Council today approved a resolution to "acknowledge, condemn and apologize for the role played by the city of Boston in the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the ongoing detrimental impacts experienced by the Black people of Boston."

The council approved the resolution 12-0. Councilor Brian Worrell (Dorchester, Mattapan) was not present.

Councilor Tania Fernandes-Anderson (Roxbury), who initially proposed the resolution, said it was past time for the city to acknowledge its role in slavery - starting with the importation of slaves into Boston in 1638 and the legalization of the ownership of people under Gov. John Winthrop and the support of local merchants such as Peter Faneuil - and the "perpetual harm that goes on today." She said that includes everything from a huge wealth gap between Boston's White and Black communities to the fact that most city departments come nowhere close to matching the percentages Blacks make up among Boston residents.

"I'm asking you to give your hearts and your courage" to approve the resolution now, without the normal course of sending it to a committee for study, she said, adding the city had never, over the centuries, officially apologized.

Councilor Ruthzee Louijeune (at large) said the city's wealth was "built on the backs" of its Black residents, and that while the city gave rise to abolitionists such as Theodore Parker, we mustn't forget that even after slavery was formally abolished in Boston, city leaders and police continued to enforce fugitive slave laws under which they would capture Blacks and send them back South.

Councilor Kendra Lara (West Roxbury, Jamaica Plain), cited Malcolm X's saying about racism that after you stab somebody with a nine-inch knife, pulling it out six inches isn't really progress. "Not only have not taken the knife out, we haven't even admitted the knife is there," she said.

City Council President Ed Flynn noted that even after Black soldiers fought and died in World War II, they were denied the same GI Bill benefits as their White counterparts.

City Councilor Frank Baker (Dorchester) voted for the measure. He said he had no problems acknowledging and condemning the wrongs of the past, although he said he was "a little uneasy" apologizing for John Winthrop, Peter Faneuil and Harvard University, especially given the way his family certainly didn't benefit from anything they did. "I grew up a little rough and tumble," he said. "We grew up poor."

But, he continued, he would vote for the measure if it could help the Black community.

Fernandes Anderson thanked him for his honesty. "I thank you for your open heart," she said.

PDF icon Complete resolution109.62 KB


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Boston, Massachusetts, and New England were all far more critical to the Atlantic Slave Trade and the business of slavery than it was to the abolitionist movement.

Of course we should celebrate Garrison, Parker, and Maria Stewart et. al. There were at least 3 monuments to anti-slavery in Boston that I can think of: the Shaw memorial on the Common, the Garrison statue on Comm Ave, and that cringey Lincoln statue that was recently removed from Park Sq. The only marker regarding slavery in Boston that I know of is the Middle Passage marker that was dedicated last year.

But +225 years of practicing and propping up slavery dwarfs 40 years of anti-slavery activism. And just because the City Council is acknowledging Boston’s enthusiastic participation in the institution of slavery, it doesn’t mean it is ignoring or erasing the Abolitionist history. You can’t celebrate being progressive and anti-slavery without confronting the area’s own sins of slavery.

Voting closed 57

And the unanimous city council lived happily ever after.

Voting closed 29

Well, when you can;t do antything about the shootings and the stabbings and the schools have gone to hell . .

Voting closed 47

THE John Winthrop, at one point, showed 8 Indian slaves in a draft of his probate inventory. Winthrop had two sons, Samuel and Henry that held dozens of slaves in the West Indies and that enterprise contributed to the family fortune. John Winthrop, Jr., and his sons Fitz-John and Waitstill Winthrop were New England slaveholders.

The Winthrop family were multi-generational human trafficking enthusiasts. Model of Christian Charity indeed.

Voting closed 38

Who exactly are they apologizing to?

Voting closed 51

Anyone effected by slavery and the mindset that some people are less than human by birth that Boston was a party to?

Like is it that hard to understand?

Voting closed 32

I don't think anyone disagrees a wrong was done a long time ago but how do you quantify how a person living today was affected and thereby would be the one to apologize to? It's an honest question.

Voting closed 37

how do you quantify how a person living today was affected

Why is there a need to quantify how someone was harmed in order to issue an apology?

If you are sincerely interested in the question of apologies for past wrongdoings, not to mention the r word, you may wish to explore the larger debate around apology and reparations. There are many people beyond the borders of Uhub who have put a lot of thought and work into this.

Voting closed 30

I don't think anyone disagrees a wrong was done a long time ago…

no need to type anything else then!

Voting closed 26

Forensic accountants, historians, etc. all compile information about what advantages/disadvantages different groups of people had. You can look at income distribution, purchasing power, housing discrimination, etc.

If I took you off the streets tomorrow, bagged you up, dropped you off in Bhutan, without a penny to your name, and said...hey, go, live a new life. You're free now.

You don't know the language (you may not even know the NAME of the language). You don't have any funds. You don't know the social services available (or even if any exist). You don't even know if you can find the ingredients to make whatever recipes are in your head if you're starving. Also, they're *really* not thrilled about foreigners there as their general isolation has harvested concerns about outsiders.

It doesn't matter what you do going forwards, you, any kids you might end up having, their kids...and multiple generations are going to be disadvantaged over every local who was already there and already making it. It'd be even worse for your family if I dropped you off in a gem of capitalism like America where wealth progression is almost entirely generational.

All of that is quantifiable based on observations of the effects as we've recorded them for the past 150 years in America.

And preemptively, no, the *individual* harm is not quantifiable. How badly Person X has it today versus Person Y due to the particular successes and failures at navigating society from each other's generational starting points are not something you're going to just put a number on. But there's definitely a generalized number you could reach and there's going to be plenty of argument around whether it should be more or less than your conclusion, but it's a number. And will we ever have that number and make a decision on if that would bring more equity to a lot of people in America? Who knows. That's a very political decision. But it's a very real number, whatever it is, and it represents a distinct disadvantage that a lot of families have had to attempt to shovel out from for decades through no fault of their own other than to have been brought here, dropped out of a bag, then *eventually* told they're free to do as they please....slowly...and over a long period of time.

Voting closed 25

It's what politicians do, it means nothing, solves nothing, changes nothing but it makes them feel better.

Voting closed 38

So how does this “apology” help Black people? I realize it helps the council members look better. Aside from this helping the councilmen, how is this bettering racial divide? I understand they have white guilt and are all privileged, but that is what’s it is.

Voting closed 26

Let's say a man walks his dog past your house every so often. Not every day. Not the same time each day. But when he does, he lets it shit on your nicely kept lawn. He doesn't clean it up.

The first time, you get angry someone would do that. But you clean it up.

The second time, you're starting to wonder if it's the same person doing this and why they're an inconsiderate asshole. But you clean it up.

The third time, you're trying to work out if there's a pattern or if you need to buy a camera to watch your lawn. But you clean it up.

Months later, you have no idea who the person you've caught on camera is and they come at random times of day so you can't just sit and watch your yard all day, besides, it's not even every day...or even a particular day of the week. You're driven mad because you're constantly having to clean up your yard from dog shit...and it's not even in the same place every time so sometimes you don't even find it for days when it's not on camera...

And then suddenly, it seems to stop. It's been a few weeks. You wonder if the person moved or if the dog died. But you will take to the grave the grievance that you could never address to the person responsible even though AT LEAST you're no longer picking up their dog's shit.

Then one day, a man comes to your door. He says it was him all along and he realizes what he was doing was wrong and he's sorry for everything he's put you through. Sure, you're still mad and you might even tell him to get the fuck out of there before you do something stupid. He's not offering money. He can't go back in time and pick up all the shit he's put on you. But, in some way, even if it's small, you're going to feel better that you finally had it out with him directly addressing the issue and you'll let some of it go knowing he acknowledged he's been wrong the whole time.

Voting closed 18

At a guess, the city council doesn't read this page and won't be responding to your cri de coeur. Have you tried any of the many ways available to reach them and ask your question? Or perhaps read the transcripts of the session to see if that information is not already available? Or, gosh, could it possibly be that you have an entirely different motive in asking your "question"?

God save us all from disingenuous right wing "I'm just asking" talking points.

Voting closed 16

The apology is for show. How does it help people? Because it makes everyone feel better?

By this logic, the only thing a rape victim needs is an apology from the rapist, and if they’re dead or not available, an apology from someone else will do?

Past atrocities should never be forgotten, but as a not so wise man once said, you can stuff your sorries in a sack, mister. If the city council actually cared to better the lives of those affected by the tragic legacy of slavery and racism, they would be taking a course of action that goes beyond apologizing. They would be addressing what barriers there are TODAY that prevent a young person from having the same advantages as other people. They would be focusing on things like gangs, gun violence, the importance of two parent households, universally available early childhood education, public information campaigns, school choice, etc.

They’re just virtue signaling and it’s appalling. Nothing is going to change until they make and keep neighborhoods safe, allowing for more family and businesses to thrive. This is what creates a healthy, functioning society. A board of politicians saying sorry does nothing to fix the problems that exist today.

Voting closed 11

it clearly got a bunch of closet racists to show their ass on the Internet, so I'll call that a win.

Voting closed 19

You are a hero. Calling out strangers on the internet for being racist is a great dead. Which part of what my I said was racist? Does racist mean something different to you?

prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against a person or people on the basis of their membership in a particular racial or ethnic group, typically one that is a minority or marginalized.
"a program to combat racism"

Voting closed 16