WASHINGTON (AFP) -- The U.S. Senate approved a fiercely worded resolution Thursday (June 18th 2009
) that attempts to formally apologize for the "fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery" of African-Americans.
The unanimous voice vote came five months after Barack Obama became the first black U.S. president, and ahead of the June 19 "Juneteenth" celebration of the emancipation of African-Americans at the end of the Civil War in 1865.
Approval by the House of Representatives, which could come as early as next week, would make it the first time the entire Congress has formally apologized on behalf of the American people for one of the most grievous wrongs in U.S. history.
The bill, which doesn't require Obama's signature, states that Congress "acknowledges the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery and Jim Crow laws" that enshrined racial segregation at the state and local level in the nation well into the 1960s.
And Congress "apologizes to African-Americans on behalf of the people of the United States, for the wrongs committed against them and their ancestors who suffered under slavery and Jim Crow laws."
It also recommits lawmakers "to the principle that all people are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and calls on all people of the United States to work toward eliminating racial prejudices, injustices, and discrimination from our society."
Sen. Tom Harkin, a Democrat from Iowa, and Sen. Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican, led the debate as both major U.S. political parties banished their deep differences on topics such as the economy to come together on the measure.
"We pledge to move beyond this shameful period and we officially acknowledge and apologize for the institution of slavery in this country what many refer to as 'the original sin of America,'" Brownback said.
"Let us make no mistake: This resolution will not fix lingering injustices. While we are proud of this resolution and believe it is long overdue, the real work lies ahead," said Harkin.
In a step that has angered some African-American lawmakers, the measure takes pains not to fuel the push for the U.S. government to pay reparations to the descendants of African slaves.
"Nothing in this resolution (a) authorizes or supports any claim against the United States; or (b) serves as a settlement of any claim against the United States," it reads.
That has drawn "serious concerns" within the Congressional Black Caucus, though the group has yet to decide on a formal position toward the legislation, a source close to the group said Thursday.
It was unclear whether opposition from those lawmakers could force a change to the language or otherwise hinder the measure.
And Harkin said a "fitting ceremony" to mark final passage would occur in early July. Supporters hope Obama will attend the event.
Former president Bill Clinton expressed regret for slavery during a March 1998 trip to Africa, while his successor George W. Bush called slavery "one of the greatest crimes of history" during a July 2003 visit to Goree Island, Senegal, a former slave-trade port.
Some U.S. states have officially adopted resolutions expressing regret or remorse for slavery.