- The Washington Times - Friday, March 2, 2007

RICHMOND — Virginia’s first-in-the-nation expression of regret for its role in slavery was reworded and strengthened after a white lawmaker’s remark that black people should “get over” slavery, the legislation’s authors said yesterday.

The measure was amended from an apology to an expression of “profound regret” for slavery after Delegate Frank D. Hargrove, Hanover Republican, said “our black citizens should get over it.”

That comment ignited emotional debate in the General Assembly and was reported worldwide.

But Mr. Hargrove’s point — that he could not apologize for injustices generations before his birth — was ultimately reflected in the resolution’s amended wording. The resolution last week unanimously passed the House of Delegates and the Senate on the grounds of the Capitol where the Confederate Congress once met.

“You can apologize for something and not mean it,” Sen. Henry L. Marsh III, Richmond Democrat and sponsor of the Senate version of the resolution, said at a press conference.

“But when you feel profound regret, you are describing something that you feel,” said Mr. Marsh, who was a young civil rights lawyer in Virginia’s school desegregation battles 40 years ago.

Mr. Hargrove, 80, said he didn’t intend to offend black people with his comment and later offered his own resolution celebrating “Juneteenth,” the annual June 19 commemoration of the day in 1865 that the last slaves were freed.

“Actually, what transpired on the floor of the House of Delegates, instead of hurting, it helped us and brought to the forefront the emotions that we really needed to deal with,” said Delegate Dwight C. Jones, Richmond Democrat and chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus.

“And from that came the Juneteenth resolution, which was not even expected to be on the floor. So it really kind of worked in our benefit,” Mr. Jones said.

Delegate A. Donald McEachin, the House sponsor of the resolution, said he was confident Mr. Hargrove’s comments were not made maliciously.

“I did feel that before he made that statement that he was unaware of the gravity of his words,” said Mr. McEachin, Henrico Democrat. “At the end of the day, we look at his vote and he did vote for it.”

Mr. Marsh, Mr. Jones and Mr. McEachin spoke on the 200th anniversary of the day in 1807 that Congress outlawed the importing of slaves to the United States. The law took effect the following year.

The Virginia resolution also voices regret about abuses against Indian tribes since the 1607 founding of Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in North America. Chiefs of three Virginia tribes also spoke, hailing the resolution as a necessity before celebrations later this year of Jamestown’s 400th anniversary, including a May visit by Queen Elizabeth.

Ken Adams, the Upper Mattaponi chief, praised the Virginia resolution along with legislation Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat, introduced in Congress that would grant federal acknowledgment to Virginia’s tribes.

“I think both of those statements — Moran’s statement and the statement from the General Assembly — sets the tone for this year, a healing tone, a tone of reconciliation for all Virginians,” Mr. Adams said.

Without a legislative expression of contrition, Mr. Marsh said, this year’s quadricentennial events could have taken a divisive tone.

“I personally didn’t want to be standing across the street picketing when the queen comes, and I would have been if this didn’t pass,” Mr. Marsh said.

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