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New Jersey Becomes First Northern State to Apologize for Role in Slavery

New Jersey became the first Northern state to apologize for slavery, as legislators approved a resolution Monday expressing "profound regret" for the state's role in the practice.

The Assembly and the Senate 29-2 both voted overwhelmingly to approve the resolution, which expresses the Legislature's opinion without requiring action by the governor.

"This resolution does nothing more than say New Jersey is sorry about its shameful past," said Assemblyman William Payne, a Democrat who sponsored the measure.

The resolution offers an apology "for the wrongs inflicted by slavery and its aftereffects in the United States of America."

It states that in New Jersey, "the vestiges of slavery are ever before African-American citizens, from the overt racism of hate groups to the subtle racism encountered when requesting health care, transacting business, buying a home, seeking quality public education and college admission, and enduring pretextual traffic stops and other indignities."

Legislators in Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia have issued formal apologies for slavery.

According to the resolution, New Jersey had one of the largest slave populations in the Northern colonies and was the last state in the Northeast to formally abolish slavery, not doing so until 1846.

The state didn't ratify the constitutional amendment prohibiting slavery until January 1866, a month after it had already become federal law.

Opponents said the apology was a meaningless gesture. Assemblyman Richard Merkt, a Republican, said everyone deems slavery an abomination.

"But this was a sin that was atoned for in blood 150 years ago by the death of 650,000 Americans," Merkt said, referring to the Civil War.