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University of Alabama apologizes for slave past

The University of Alabama made a historic apology Tuesday to the descendants of slaves who were owned by faculty members or who worked on campus in the antebellum period.
Josh Rothman, left, a professor in the history department at the University of Alabama, and Alfred Brophy, right, a professor at the law school vote for Brophy's resolution in the Faculty Senate to apologize for the university’s past ties to slavery Tuesday in Tuscaloosa.Robert Sutton / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

The University of Alabama apologized Tuesday to the descendants of slaves who were owned by faculty members or who worked on campus in the years before the Civil War.

The apology — approved 36-1 by the Faculty Senate — was the first at the university and possibly the first of its kind in the nation, officials said.

It was also the second move by the school in recent days to acknowledge the university’s historical ties to slavery.

Last Thursday, university officials announced the school will erect a marker near the graves of two slaves on the campus and place others on buildings where slaves once worked and lived.

Al Brophy, a white law professor who authored the apology, documented years of bondage at the university, which was founded in 1831 and mostly destroyed by Union troops at the close of the Civil War before it was rebuilt.

Two university presidents and some faculty members owned slaves during the years before the Civil War, Brophy found, and several of the oldest structures on campus contain bricks made by slaves.

The president of the Faculty Senate, John Mason, called the apology “very important symbolism” at the school, scene of Gov. George C. Wallace’s “stand in the schoolhouse door” against integration in 1963.

Wallace tried to block the admission of two black students to the all-white university. Now, about 15 percent of Alabama’s 20,000 students are minorities.

“I think this sends a message to people of color that, ‘You are welcome here,”’ Mason said of the apology.

Marvin Johnson, a music professor, spoke against the apology, saying there was no way faculty members could apologize for something that happened so long ago.

“The university as it existed at the time of the war is not representative of the university today,” he said.

But Robert Turner, a black senior, said the apology would make the university a more inviting place for minorities.

“I think it shows the University of Alabama does not shy away from its history, but shows the university making great strides to be more inclusive,” he said.

Last month, Brown University, in Providence, R.I., began a two-year inquiry into its connections with the New England slave trade.