Should Vermont make a formal apology and reparations for slavery?

Published: Mar. 20, 2019 at 4:02 PM EDT
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Should the state of Vermont make a formal apology for slavery and offer reparations? At least five members of the Vermont House think it's worth studying and hope to create a task force to figure out how.

"People of color, marginalized communities are suffering, and our country generates a big vast majority of its wealth on slave labor," said Jaada Longmore of Burlington who testified in the House Government Operations Committee Wednesday as Rep. Brian Cina, P-Burlington, introduced his bill.

"This task force would study and consider a state apology and a proposal for reparations for the institution of slavery," Cina said. He says Vermont's original Constitution prohibited slavery, but with exceptions. He says even the family of famed Green Mountain Boy Ethan Allen held slaves in Vermont. "What we see is that slavery didn't just end. What happened was there was this gradual transition from slavery to systemic racism."

The 11-member task force Cina wants would have a tough job determining what reparations might look like. It's an early challenge some lawmakers are already questioning.

"Theoretically they would come back next year, the year after, with a recommendation for some kind of a monetary penalty, benefit, reparations, or am I missing something here?" Rep. Jim Harrison, R-Chittenden.

For Longmore, reparations could come in many forms, including monetary. "Reparations, to me when I hear that word, is a way to make amends, whatever that may look like," she said.

The bill didn't meet the deadline to be considered this year, but the idea of reparations is now being discussed by presidential candidates, so the discussion is likely to continue here in Vermont.