Delaware Gov. Jack Markell signed a resolution Wednesday officially apologizing for the state’s role in slavery and for wrongs committed against blacks during the Jim Crow era.
The signing took place at the Delaware Public Archives in Dover. The declaration coincided with the state’s celebration of Black History Month and an unveiling of an exhibit commemorating the 125th anniversary of Delaware State University, according to the News Journal.
“Today we affirm that we refuse to forget our past. We accept the responsibility of tearing down the barriers that face so many of our neighbors as a result of the abhorrent laws and practices carried out against African-Americans,” Markell said during the ceremony.
Delaware sided with the Union during the Civil War, but maintained the right to own slaves until the 13th Amendment was ratified in 1865. Delaware’s slave population was 8,887, according to the paper.
Delaware State University President Harry L. Williams praised the governor’s apology resolution Wednesday and said it can serve as a lesson for the rest of the nation.
“I am so excited that I’m alive to tell the story about how our state, the First State, made a statement and that statement was that we believe in justice and doing what is right,” Williams said.
Democratic state Rep. Stephanie T. Bolden appeared to be emotional as she stood beside Markell as he signed the resolution. She said she was proud that Delaware is taking a step to apologize for its role “in such an inhumane practice.”
Delaware is the eighth state which has formally apologized through a resolution. Maryland was the first state to pass a formal resolution to apologize for slavery. Those lawmakers passed the measure in 2006, according to the News Journal.
Nationally, congressional resolutions apologizing for slavery were passed separately in the House in 2008 and the Senate the following year, but the two measures have never been reconciled into a single version to be submitted to the president for his signature.
Markell pardoned Delaware abolitionist Samuel D. Burris last year for his role in helping slaves escape the horrors of forced labor. Burris was convicted 168 years ago of helping slaves escape through the Underground Railroad. He served 10 months in jail as a free man for helping a woman escape to Philadelphia.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.