Having helped bring an end to the Hollywood blacklist era, Kirk Douglas is no stranger to political activism. Nowadays, Douglas channels his persistence into his two-year effort to have the United States craft an official apology for slavery.
After making headway with a House resolution in July, he is turning his efforts toward the Senate and the next president in his quest for the apology.
It might seem an odd cause for a 91-year-old screen legend to take up, but Douglas says he loves his country too much to allow the continuing stain of the depraved institution of slavery, which was legal in the United States until 1865.
“My parents, Russian immigrants, never went to school. They came here to give me a better life,” Douglas told Newsmax. “Only in America could a guy with my background work his way through college and then go into acting.”
Douglas, whose speech is impaired from a stroke a dozen years ago, also maintains that an apology for slavery would go a long way to repairing the country’s strained relations with much of the rest of the world.
“A powerful country like ours should show we are capable of humility,” he said.
And when Douglas sees oppression, even of the historical variety, his inclination is to do something about it. That’s why, in 1960, when actors accused of being Communists couldn’t get work in Hollywood, Douglas effectively ended the blacklisting by hiring an infamous member of the Hollywood Ten to write the screenplay for the classic film “Spartacus,” defying objections from even the most powerful movie moguls.
Such courage and tenacity have served the actor well, and the House approved a slavery apology in July, two years after Douglas launched his campaign. But the Senate hasn’t followed suit.
Douglas, whose effort includes posting his plea on his MySpace page, said he intends to write to the next president, encouraging him to get on board and push the Senate, too. It would be his second such letter, since he wrote to both the Democratic and Republican contenders for the job during the primaries.
“I didn't detect any enthusiasm from either party,” he said.
Opponents of such a plan argue that an official apology would open the door to costly lawsuits and maybe even reparations. Plus, they say, why should today’s Americans apologize for — and potentially pay for — something they had no part in?
“I got that question from a young person recently at my MySpace page,” Douglas said. “I say, as Americans, we should make that apology. We all have a part in what happened in our country, whether we were born or not.”
And Douglas says he is advocating only an apology, not reparations.
Not many of Douglas’ celebrity cohorts, even those prone to activism, have been as outspoken as he is on the issue. Perhaps with AIDS, Darfur, environmental degradation and the Iraq war to contend with, they just haven’t the time. That’s fine with Douglas, though.
“I never solicited any help. But I¹m proud that so many of my colleagues feel a responsibility for the problems of the world,” he said. “People like George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and Jerry Lewis. That pleases me. As you get older, you must think more of others.”
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