apology, public apology, school segregation, desegregation, boards of education

Document Type

Article in Response to Controversy


Ethics of Memory: What Does it Mean to Apologize for Historical Wrongs


In November 2012, the Board of Education of Howard County, Maryland approved a proclamation that expressed “profound regret that the Howard County Public School System maintained segregated and unequal public schools both prior, and subsequent to” Brown v. Board of Education. The proclamation describes Howard County’s slow response to comply with the 1954 decision, such that the school system was not officially desegregated until eleven years later in 1965. Through the analysis of stakeholder interviews and board meetings, we explore the various ways and the extent to which the Board of Howard County’s apology was bestowed with meaning. We argue that the apology was utilized as a narrative device to define the role of the Board, delineate the injustice committed, establish (dis)continuity between past and present injustices, and work out who has been wronged. Stakeholders used de jure segregation as a lens to understand contemporary de facto segregation and reflected on its continuing harm to current members of the community. We conclude by discussing the potential of public apologies as forms of governance that mold responsible and responsive public officials.



Subjects - Topical (LCSH)

School boards--Maryland--Howard County; Segregation in education; Racism in education; Regret--United States; Apologizing--United States


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Geographic Coverage

United States







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Education Commons