It's certain to bring a noisy invasion of Confederate flag-waving rednecks to the Capitol. State Rep. Brenda Gilmore is offering a resolution expressing "profound regret" for slavery and racial segregation. Her resolution, which would make Tennessee the seventh state to express contrition in one form or another for slavery, cleared a House subcommittee this morning. But the chairman, Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, made a point of recording his vote as no. Afterward, he explained:
: I voted no because it's something that happened 160 years ago. I wasn't alive when we had slavery so I didn't feel like I should apologize on behalf of the people of Tennessee. I do regret that it happened. It was a horrible, horrible thing. But I didn't have anything to do with it, so that's why I voted against it.
: Do you anticipate other lawmakers having the same reservations?
: Sure, I think so. In no way do I think it was right that we did that thing, I say we, but our ancestors did that thing. I don't know that mine in particular did. So it's kinda hard for me to apologize on behalf of people who have been dead for 100 years. That's all I'm saying. I didn't make a big speech in the committee meeting because I know it's a sensitive subject to some people. But sometimes you have to vote your conscience even if it's not the popular thing to do, and that's what I did in there.
It doesn't require you to apologize for anything. It expresses regret. Why not express regret?
: I'm expressing regret right now. I do regret it. I wish it had never happened. I wish it hadn't happened for the last 10,000 years either. But me apologizing for it on behalf of the people of Tennessee doesn't mean anything.
But you guys pass all kinds of goofy resolutions saying this and that.
: Well, and this is another one, that I'm not voting for. How about that?
Gilmore, a black Democrat from Nashville, noted after that she's not asking the legislature to make an unambiguous apology--something that New Jersey, Alabama and North Carolina have done. Instead, her resolution would express regret but stop short of saying we're sorry. That's what the rest of the states passing such resolutions--Florida, Maryland and Virginia--have done. And that's what President Clinton did in 1998.
Asked whether she thinks her resolution will pass, Gilmore said, "I just don't really know. I'm simply asking for an expression of regret. I'm not asking for an apology. I'm certainly not asking for any monetary reparation or anything like that. So I'm not certain why anyone would feel they can't vote for this. But I'm going to pray and hope for the best."