Suzanne Goldenberg

Washington: The state of Virginia, the heart of the confederacy during the civil war, has issued the first official apology for slavery and the exploitation of native Americans by the country's white settlers.

In a resolution that passed unanimously in both chambers of the state general assembly in Richmond, legislators offered their ``profound regret'' for the enslavement of millions of Americans.

``The moral standards of liberty and equality have been transgressed during much of Virginia's and America's history,'' the resolution says. It calls the enslavement of millions of Africans and the exploitation of native Americans ``the most horrendous of all depredations of human rights and violations of our founding ideals in our nation's history''.

The collective expression of remorse is believed to be the first of its kind to recognise that the foundations of America were built on exploitation. Its symbolism was underlined by its delivery from Richmond, the former capital of the confederacy and home at the outset of the civil war in 1861 to half a million of the four million African-Americans living in slavery.

The display of contrition was timed to mark the 400th anniversary of the establishment of the English settlement of Jamestown in 1607. The first recorded instance of slavery in the New World was at Jamestown 12 years later with the landing of a Dutch ship at the colonial outpost bearing 20 Africans in chains.

The injustice was not entirely righted with Abraham Lincoln's proclamation of emancipation in 1865, the resolution acknowledges. ``The abolition of slavery was followed by systematic discrimination, enforced segregation, and other insidious institutions and practices toward Americans of African descent that were rooted in racism, racial bias, and racial misunderstanding.''

Guardian Newspapers Limited 2007