June 20, 2007
by David Ushery, WNBC
New York -- A New York state lawmaker is pushing for a measure that would make New York the first northern state to formally apologize for slavery.
In recent months, tens of thousands have gazed upon a long, painful chapter of New York history. They have visited an exhibit at the New York Historical Society on the Upper West Side.
An exhibit where the cotton bales hang high and the spirit of human exploitation in New York state hangs heavy in the air.
Exhibit curator Richard Rabinowitz says "it's hard to overestimate the importance of slavery both in the founding of New York, first in the 17th century of New Amsterdam and then of the New York under the British, and then New York when it is part of the free United States."
Harlem Assemblyman Keith Wright says that it was partly his own visit to the exhibit and also the apologies in some southern states that prompted him to push for similar action in New York.
State Assemblyman Keith Wright says "people mainly think that slavery was an institution that was only entered into below the Mason-Dixon line. New York was the number two importer of slaves in the United States."
The historical society says that New York was once known as the "Capital of the South" because of its strong economic and political ties to southern states. Consider Abraham Lincoln never got more than 35% of the vote in New York City because a lot of support went to pro-slavery candidates.
Richard Rabinowitz says "because New York was so deeply tied in with the cotton trade in the south, New Yorkers became so deeply involved in making more money out of cotton that their whole political system and cultural attitudes were shaped by a pro-southern, pro-slavery kind of position."
Some acknowledgment of slaves in New York came with the discovery of burial grounds in lower Manhattan, the resting place for the weary bones of more than 400 Africans.
State Assemblyman Keith Wright says "if it were not for slavery, the state of New York would not be the great state that it is... it would not be the financial capital of the world."