"Resolved by the House of Delegates, the Senate concurring, that the General Assembly hereby acknowledge with profound regret the involuntary servitude of Africans and the exploitation of Native Americans and call for reconciliation among all Virginians," states the resolution.
"The moral standards of liberty and equality have been transgressed during much of Virginia's and America's history," the resolution states. It labels slavery "the most horrendous of all depredations of human rights and violations of our founding ideals in our nation's history."
In an extraordinary public confessional debated for weeks, the resolution concedes that "the most abject apology for past wrongs cannot right them; yet the spirit of true repentance on behalf of a government, and, through it, a people, can promote reconciliation and healing." The bill's chief patron in the House, Delegate A. Donald McEachin, 45, is the great-grandson of a North Carolina slave who moved to Virginia after the Civil War.
McEachin, who is studying theology, said his personal history and spiritual journey merged with Virginia's as he took his seat in the legislative body descended from the assembly that began passing slave laws shortly after the first Africans arrived near Jamestown in chains in 1619.
"Words matter, and expressions of regret and apology matter and are important for the healing process," he said in a telephone interview shortly after the House approved the resolution in the former Confederate capital.
McEachin, a Democrat, said his office has been contacted by aides from legislatures in Mississippi, Maryland and Missouri — states with difficult slave histories of their own — and the National Conference of State Legislatures, all expressing interest in passing similar resolutions.
"It's my hope that what we have done here in Virginia will continue elsewhere — if not through the [U.S.] Congress, then through the states," said McEachin.