State Sen. Martha Fuller Clarke, D-Portsmouth, is sponsoring the Senate bill. She told colleagues Wednesday that she hopes the Legislature will act quickly to emancipate the former slaves. The approval by the Public and Municipal Affairs Committee means the bill can now go before the full Senate.
Gov. Maggie Hassan has said she would sign the bill if approved by the full Legislature.
Cunningham said acting now would help bring attention to an African-American burial ground in downtown Portsmouth, where a mayoral committee is hoping to build a memorial park. The African Burying Ground Committee has worked for almost a decade to get the memorial built, and though they need additional money, a spokesman said they may break ground on the project this summer. The design would include granite engravings with passages from the petition.
The goal of the bill and the memorial park is to celebrate the culture and contribution of blacks to New Hampshire and bring that history to the fore, Cunningham said.
"It's sad that this is not in the schools. We need to make sure that the history we teach is more inclusive," she added.
Lett said he sees the bill as largely symbolic but hopes its passage will mean the Legislature doesn't plan to wait another 200 years to address the concerns of the black community today. He said those concerns include persistent wage and health inequalities and a disproportionate number of blacks in the state prison system.
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