TALLAHASSEE (AP) – Florida lawmakers have formally expressed regret for the state's long support of slavery in a resolution calling for reconciliation.
Senators approved the resolution at their March 26 session after hearing some of the history detailing the treatment endured by slaves in the 19th century and the reluctance of politicians in the last century to recognize the intolerance and mistreatment of blacks. The state House of Representatives passed the resolution a few hours later.
“It is important that the Legislature express profound regret for the shameful chapter in this state's history,'' the resolution reads.
Legislators in Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia have recently issued formal apologies or regrets for slavery, and New Jersey became the first northern state to apologize in January.
Florida enacted its first slave laws in the 1820s as a territory, and early political leaders in the state were some of the most vigorous defenders of slavery.
That included Florida Gov. Gen. Richard Keith Call. In a portion of an 1861 letter that was read on the Senate floor March 26, Call described a black man as “an animal in the form of a man, possessing the greatest physical power, and the greatest capacity for labor and endurance … a wild barbarian, to be tamed and civilized by the discipline of slavery.”
In the 1850s, at a time when Florida's population was around 111,000, 44 percent of the population was slaves. After the Civil War, Florida's Constitution of 1868 guaranteed blacks the right to vote and abolished slavery in the state, but inequities remained.