Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, who is black, quickly demanded an apology, Politico reported, while Republican senators took Reid to task during a recess.
On the floor, Reid ripped GOP leaders who are trying to work on healthcare reform incrementally.
"You think you've heard these same excuses before? You're right," Reid said. "In this country there were those who dug in their heels and said, 'Slow down, it's too early. Let's wait. Things aren't bad enough' -- about slavery. When women wanted to vote, (they said) 'Slow down, there will be a better day to do that -- the day isn't quite right ... .'"
Reid finished his commentary by saying, "When this body was on the verge of guaranteeing equal civil rights to everyone regardless of the color of their skin, some senators resorted to the same filibuster threats that we hear today."
Steele said Reid was under "immense pressure" to pass a healthcare bill.
"The pressure has apparently led Senator Reid not only to make offensive and absurd statements, but also to lose his ability to reason," Steele said, calling on Reid to apologize.
Senate Republicans called Reid's comments the outgrowth of a desperate party.
"And for Senator Reid to go out this morning and make such an outlandish statement like he made, just is another indication of the desperation that the Democrats are showing and the pressure that they're feeling," said Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.
Reid's office shot back that the GOP's "feigned outrage" was a "ploy" to distract voters from the lack of Republican alternative, Politico reported.