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Ga. slavery apology sponsors suggest proposal might have to wait
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ATLANTA — The leader of Georgia’s black lawmakers group said Friday that a push in the Legislature to apologize for the state’s role in slavery may be dead for the year.
    The comments came a day after the plan’s main Republican backer in the Senate made a similar announcement and blamed his Democratic counterpart for the lack of action — a claim Senate Democratic Leader Robert Brown denies.
    ‘‘It might not be introduced this year,’’ said state Rep. Al Williams, chairman of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus. ‘‘There’s always next year.’’
    Senate President pro-tem Eric Johnson, a white Republican from Savannah, has been meeting with prominent black leaders in the House, including state Reps. Tyrone Brooks, a civil rights activist, and Williams to craft a statement of regret for Georgia’s role in the slave trade.
    In March, the Georgia arm of the NAACP called on the state Legislature to take a cue from Virginia, where a resolution passed unanimously in February expressing ‘‘profound regret’’ over slavery. Lawmakers in Maryland and North Carolina have since adopted similar proposals.
    But on Thursday, Johnson issued a statement saying the plan had stalled, largely because Brown ‘‘has not made a request that we pursue an apology this year.’’
    On Friday, Brown called the statement ‘‘a great leap from the truth,’’ saying Johnson and others never approached him or other Senate Democrats on the issue.
    ‘‘The implication was that I had been part of the negotiations and we had concluded together that it was something that didn’t need to be done,’’ Brown said. ‘‘We were never invited or engaged at that level.’’
    Brown, who is black, said he personally disagrees with working on an apology, saying other issues are more of a priority. But he said he would have attended negotiations as chair of the caucus or, more likely, appointed another Democrat to do so if he had been contacted.
    In an e-mail exchange Thursday morning, Johnson seemed prepared to abandon the effort altogether. He asked Brown if he wanted to sign off, as Democratic leader, on a statement saying that no slavery apology is necessary and that ‘‘(s)uch an effort, while well intentioned, would be meaningless.’’
    Brown responded that he would not sign off on the statement, saying Senate Democrats had no official position and that ‘‘no one representing the Senate Democratic Caucus has been negotiating on this matter.’’
    Johnson said he sent Brown a copy of a proposed resolution several weeks ago. He said he assumed Brown was not interested in negotiating because of comments he had made opposing the effort, but that work on the plan was widely known at the capitol and Brown or another Senate Democrat could have joined at any time.
    Brown’s comments Friday ‘‘all sound like excuses,’’ Johnson said. ‘‘I think the question is why didn’t he want to participate.’’
    He held out a sliver of hope that the resolution could move forward in the Legislature’s final four days in session: ‘‘We didn’t close the door,’’ Johnson said.
    Williams, the black caucus leader who is a Democrat from Midway, said one draft of the apology proposal expresses ‘‘profound regret’’ for the state’s role in enslaving blacks, but that it might not be introduced by next Friday, when the session ends.
    ‘‘I want to make sure we’re ready to move on it and that we don’t look differently from Virginia, North Carolina and Maryland,’’ he said. ‘‘We want consensus. I’d love to work toward unanimity. And it’s not quite there yet.’’
    Associated Press writer Greg Bluestein contributed to this report.
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