Gov. Jack Markell signed a resolution Wednesday apologizing for Delaware’s historic role in slavery.
The lyrics of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” echoed inside the Delaware Public Archives in Dover Wednesday as the Delaware State University Concert choir sang the liberating hymn.
The performance kicked off Gov. Jack Markell’s signing of a resolution that officially apologizes for the state’s role in slavery.
The historic occasion also included a proclamation recognizing Black History Month and kicked off the 125th anniversary of the historically black university.
“It’s not enough to know simply that slavery existed. And this egregious sin of our prior generation is not merely a fact of our state’s past,” said Markell, D-Delaware, before the signing.
“A candid acknowledgement and acceptance of our past is the only way to understand our present and take responsibility for our future.”
The signed document will be on display in the Delaware Public Archives as a historic document, along with other documents about slavery and the Civil Rights movement.
“It comes to a good ending,” said Stephen Marz, director and state archivist for the Delaware Public Archives.
“There are documents that have shown how slavery and injustice was happening in the state, and now you come hundreds of years later and you have a document saying, ‘We apologize for all those actions’ that are documented in the archives that happened throughout the state of Delaware.”
The bi-partisan resolution sponsored by Rep. Stephanie Bolden, D-Wilmington, and several other legislators, passed last month with a 38-1 vote. It was first introduced by Sen. Margaret Rose Henry in 2010, but was unsupported by the General Assembly. Henry also co-sponsored the resolution signed on Wednesday.
“It’s important to start the healing process—it’s just the beginning,” Bolden said. “There’s so many things going on, but it’s the beginning. And people feel comfortable with the beginning and the acknowledgement.”
She said she’s thankful for the support of the governor, and says it’s fitting the signing falls around the national holiday.
“We started with the celebration of the emancipation proclamation, which was Dec. 7, the 150th [anniversary], the bill was passed and introduced around Martin Luther King’s birthday, and now the signing — what a great day other than Black History Month and Ash Wednesday,” Bolden said.
Markell said signing the apology reminds Delawareans not only of the nation’s past, but what work still needs to be accomplished. While it’s an important symbol, more needs to be done to help disadvantaged children and adults succeed, he said.
“It’s a powerful signal that we recognize what happened in the past,” Markell said. “But what’s more important than the apology is the commitment we make now to work together toward the future.”