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Onondaga County Legislature resolution aims to "condemn" racism of predecessors

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Scott Willis
Legislator Linda Ervin explains the thinking behind her memorializing resolution to her colleagues.

Onondaga County Legislators began black history month Tuesday by approving a non-binding resolution condemning the racist practices of their earliest predecessors. They were known then as the board of supervisors, which continued until the legislature was formed in the 1960's. Legislator Linda Ervin is one of two African Americans on the legislature. She says someone brought a 1795 resolution to their attention that spelled out values of taxable property.

"And within that resolution, of course this is during slavery, they indicated the value of a woman who was Black was 30 pounds and a Black man was 50 pounds. This is matter of record."

That resolution used language common for the day such as "Negro men" and "Negro wenches," and they were listed along with saw mills, horses, cows, and other livestock.

Ervin says her resolution aimed to give the current legislature the chance condemn those actions. But she took exception to the removal of the word “systemic” in reference to racism.

"In the original form of the resolution, it talked about racism within our history as well as within this community. But the form that we're going to vote on speaks only about the racism in our history. It is something that people don't want to talk about, although it exists. Therefore, it's something we must talk about."

But Chairman Jim Rowley disagreed with the notion of the resolution.

"We all have a responsibility to recognize our history in full. We need to acknowledge the wrong. We need to honor the right. Legislator Ervin's resolution as amended, in my opinion, is one sided, and misses a good opportunity to really celebrate Black History Month."

He says the rescue of escaped slave William “Jerry” Henry in Syracuse is one example. Ervin says the idea behind the resolution was to correct a wrong, and wasn’t intended to serve as the only effort to celebrate Black History Month.

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at