The City Council on Wednesday 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.