Nebraska considering apologizing for slavery

? Nebraska could become the first state west of the Mississippi to apologize for slavery if lawmakers approve a resolution to express “profound regret” and sympathies to those who were enslaved and their descendants.

“It brings attention to our history,” said Sen. Dwite Pedersen of Omaha, who introduced the resolution. “A lot of people wouldn’t think Nebraska had a lot to do with slavery, but it did.”

Legislators in New Jersey, Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia have issued apologies for slavery. Nebraska would be the first Midwest state to formally apologize.

An apology “can speed racial healing and reconciliation and help African-American and white citizens confront the ghosts of their collective pasts together,” according to resolution.

But an opponent of such resolutions in other states said it’s puzzling why Nebraska would issue such an apology. The Nebraska Territory banned slavery in 1861, the year the Civil War started.

“I don’t think that an apology serves any legitimate purpose,” said Roger Clegg, CEO of the Center for Equal Opportunity, a group that says it’s opposed to racial preferences. “The slave owners are all dead and the slaves are all dead, therefore I don’t think an apology makes any sense.”

Nebraska was a center of turmoil over slavery in the 1800s because Iowa was a free state and Missouri was a slave state, according to the resolution.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which opened lands west of the Missouri River to white settlement, allowed settlers to decide for themselves whether or not to own slaves. The first territorial legislature passed a resolution prohibiting “negroes and mulattoes” from settling in Nebraska.

Pedersen said Friday that he prefers to express regret more than apology, although the resolution uses both terms. Pedersen said a constituent in Omaha asked him to introduce the resolution, which says the measure is not intended to be used in any type of litigation.

A public hearing will be held after the resolution is referred to a legislative committee. Speaker Mike Flood, who sets the legislative agenda, said there’s a good chance the resolution will be debated by the full Legislature this session, which ends April 15.

A resolution gets just one vote by lawmakers instead of the normal three for legislation and does not require a signature from the governor.

Racial issues are in the state’s spotlight this year, as a group gathers signatures to put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot to bar race and gender as factors in public hiring and college admissions decisions.

Nebraska is one of five states being targeted by the California group Super Tuesday for Equal Rights. Colorado, Missouri, Oklahoma and Arizona are the others

The proposed constitutional amendment would bar “preferential treatment to any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education or public contracting.”