The Mishna tells us: "In every generation, we are commanded to view ourselves as if each of us was personally brought forth out of Egypt" ( Tractate P'sachim 10:5). This mandate highlights the importance of remembering the injustice of slavery throughout the years.
Millions of Africans and their descendants were abducted from their homes and enslaved in the American colonies and the United States between 1619 and 1865. Despite the statement in the Declaration of Independence that "all men are created equal," the government of the United States sanctioned slavery until ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1865. Families of slaves were deliberately divided and illiteracy was imposed upon the slave population. African American slaves were never compensated for their work during their enslavement period, and emancipation was followed by more than a hundred years of government-sanctioned segregation that continued to deny the descendants of slaves their constitutional right to equality.
In light of continuing racial tension in our nation, as well as widespread societal ignorance of African American history and culture, there is a critical need for more comprehensive presentation, preservation, and recognition of the contributions of African Americans within American society. Such efforts would not only hold enormous educational value and enhance racial harmony, but they would also honor the memory of those who suffered and perished as victims of hatred and brutality. Memorials, museums, and monuments provide a focus for us to reflect upon and learn from the past, and they remind us of the ever-present need to prevent injustice in the future.
As Jews, with our own history as victims of discrimination and persecution, we are particularly sensitive to the plight of victims of discrimination, and we are cognizant of the dangers that we face in a society where inequity is allowed to persist. In this spirit and in the pursuit of justice, we are committed to confronting historical wrongs. Reflecting on memorials for past injustices to Jews, a 1989 CCAR responsum states: "Where it was possible, sad events of the past were remembered in a permanent form within the Jewish community. It was only rarely possible to erect a memorial in the general community. That, of course, is possible nowadays in the Western world [and entirely appropriate]" (New American Reform Responsa, "Holocaust Memorials and the Jewish Tradition"). We are guided by this responsum as we consider appropriate measures to memorialize the injustice of slavery and the lives of millions of Africans torn from their cultural roots.
THEREFORE , the Union for Reform Judaism resolves to:
Support federal efforts to:
- Acknowledge the fundamental injustice and inhumanity of slavery in the United States;
- Memorialize the lives of those who suffered and perished as a consequence of slavery in the United States; and
- Promote cultural understanding of African American heritage to further enhance social justice and racial harmony; and
- Seek a greater understanding of these historical realities of American society by working in coalition with other religious, racial, and ethnic groups in supporting the establishment of memorials, museums, and monuments, which promote cultural understanding, social justice, and racial harmony.