Thursday, August 6, 2009

Reparations Now!

On June 18, 2009, 144 years after slavery, the United States Senate unanimously passed a resolution apologizing for slavery and segregation. The measure is now pending before the United States House of Representatives.[1] This apology is very significant. It is a major step toward racial reconciliation. Words are important. They have the power to inspire, unite and heal. This reminds me of President Obama speech during the Democratic Primary. He said, “Don’t tell me that words don’t matter. I Have a Dream. Just words. We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal. Just words…just speeches.” I hope that this resolution passes in the House as well. However, as the resolution states, “an apology for centuries of brutal dehumanization and injustice cannot erase the past.” Without action, words are meaningless.

U.S. Senator Tom Harkin said, “The real work lies ahead.” The real work is reparations. This resolution must be transformed into a launching pad for reparations. Although the resolution includes a disclaimer, it does not prevent future reparations legislation or litigation.

As Molefi Asante asserts in “The African American Warrant for Reparations,” this Nation has a moral obligation[2] to give reparations to the descendents of enslaved Africans. Our ancestors were kidnapped, shackled in chains, crammed into slave ships like sardines and forced to wallow in filth. As Eric Williams noted in Capitalism and Slavery, “The space allotted to each slave on the Atlantic crossing measured five and a half feet in length by sixteen inches in breadth. They were packed like “rows of books on shelves,”…chained two by two, right leg and left leg, right hand and left hand, each slave had less room than a man in a coffin.”[3] The “crowded conditions on the vessel increased the incidence of disease and epidemics during the voyage.” During the Middle Passage, many Africans were thrown overboard and devoured by sharks. Some scholars estimate that at least 10 to 12 million Africans died during the Middle Passage.[4] Other scholars estimate that over 100 million Africans died. [5] Slavery is our Holocaust, Our Great Catastrophe.

The Africans survivors of the Middle Passage were subjected to one of the most brutal forms of oppression and exploitation in human history. We were uprooted from our motherland and stripped of our culture, traditions and history. We were forced to adopt an alien culture. Consequently, unlike other immigrants, we do not know our original names, languages, tribes, cultures and religions. We were beat with whips, maimed, raped and murdered. We were completely dehumanized and reduced to property, bought and sold like cattle. As John Hope Franklin states in From Slavery to Freedom: A History of Negro Americans,

"A slave had no standing in the courts: he could not be a party to a suit at law; he could not offer testimony except against another slave or a free Negro; and his irresponsibility meant his oath was not binding. Thus, he could make no contract. The ownership of property was generally forbidden him, though some states permitted a slave to have certain types of personal property. A slave could not strike a white person, even in self-defense; but the killing of a slave, however malicious the act, was rarely regarded as murder…Slaves could not leave the plantation without authorization, and any white person finding a slave out without permission could take him up and turn him over to public officials. They could not possess firearms, and, in Mississippi, they could not beat drums or blow horns. They could not hire themselves out without permission or in any other way conduct themselves as free men. They could not buy or sell goods…They were never to assemble unless a white person as present."[6]

As the United States Supreme Court noted in the infamous case of Dred Scott v. John A. Sanford, 60 U.S. 393 (1856), in describing the African,

"They had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations; and so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit. He was bought and sold, and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic, whenever a profit could be made by it."

After slavery ended, the African was subjected to a new phase of oppression, Jim Crow. Every aspect of life was segregated. The schools, hospitals, restaurants, transportation, sports, recreation, orphanages, prisons, funeral homes, morgues and cemeteries were segregated.[7]

In addition, lynching was a common occurrence. Between 1882 and 1968, approximately 4,742 African Americans were brutally lynched.[8] Many were hanged. Many were castrated. Some were decapitated. Many were burned alive. The lynch mobs referred to the burnings as Negro Barbecues.[9] Lynch mobs acted with impunity. With demented glee, they had the audacity to gather their friends and families and take photographs as if they were attending some grotesque sporting event. As documented in the book, Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America, the perpetrators actually used the photographs to make postcards. “Lynching occurred in all but four states in the contiguous United States, and less than 1 percent of the perpetrators were brought to justice.”[10] The federal government idly stood by and allowed these atrocities to continue for years. The U.S. Senate rejected three anti-lynching measures.[11] On June 14, 2005, the U.S. Senate approved a resolution apologizing for its failure to enact federal anti-lynching legislations. Although that apology is a good gesture, it is inadequate. Justice demands that the families of the victims be compensated. The living perpetuators must be hunted down like the Nazis and the 911 terrorists.

Legal segregation ended with Brown v. the Board of Education and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and other civil rights legislation. Such legislation was designed to end discrimination. It was prospective. It was not designed to compensate the victims of Jim Crow era for decades of suffering.

Lingering modern American racism and white privilege are the products of slavery and Jim Crow. The myths of white supremacy and black inferiority were created to justify slavery and Jim Crow laws. Centuries of slavery followed by decades of segregated schools and other conditions inflicted severe psychology damage, stunted our intellectual potential and human development. As a result of this legacy of oppression, many of us continue to hate ourselves. Many of us continue to hate our dark hue and natural hair texture. Adopting our oppressor’s language, we continue to refer to our brothers and sisters as niggers.

Although there was been great progress, racial disparities continue to exist in education, criminal justice, health care and economics. For example, according to the National Urban League’s State of Black America 2009, “African Americans remain twice as likely as whites to be unemployed, three times more likely to live in poverty and more than six times as likely to be incarcerated.”[12]

In addition to a moral obligation, U.S. and European governments, descendents of slave owners and corporations have an economic obligation[13] to pay reparations. They were unjustly enriched from our enslavement. Their wealth was build from centuries of free labor, our sweat, blood and tears. Not only did U.S. government pass the laws that made slavery possible, the government utilized slave labor to build the Nation’s Capital.[14] American finance, banking, insurance, manufacturing, publishing and other industries have ties to slavery. Some of the U.S. companies that have ties to slavery include Aetna, New York Life, AIG, JP Morgan Chase Manhattan Bank, Brown Brothers, Harriman, Norfolk Southern CSX, Union Pacific, Canadian National, WestPoint Stevens, Knight Ridder, Tribune, Media General, Advance Publications, E.W. Scripps and Gannett.[15] The original benefactors of Harvard, Yale, Brown, Princeton and the University of Virginia were wealthy slave owners.[16] British banks, metallurgical industries, and insurance industries (including Lloyd’s of London) profited from the slave trade. [17] As Eric Williams states, “the triangular trade made an enormous contribution to Britain’s industrial development. The profits from this trade fertilized the entire productive system of the country.”[18]

Without profits from slave labor, those governments, corporations and families probably would not be as prosperous as they are today. They must disgorge their ill gotten gains and compensate the descendants of enslaved Africans.

As Black Panther Party founder Bobby Seale said, we must seize the time. The U.S. Senate has passed a resolution apologizing for slavery and segregation. We have a progressive African American President. The Democratic Party has a majority in the House and the Senate. Now is the time to push for the passage of Congressman John Conyers’s (D-MI) H.R. 40.[19] America’s debt is over 144 years past due and we must collect it. We have an obligation to ourselves and our ancestors. We must demand reparations now.

[1] Douglas, William. “In Congress, even trying to apologize stirs a fight.” Detroit Free Press. 5 July 2009.
[2] Asante, Molefi Kete. “The African American Warrant for Reparations.” Should America Pay?: Slavery and the Raging Debate on Reparations. Ed. Raymond A. Winbush. New York: Amistad, 2003:4.
[3] Williams, Eric. Capitalism and Slavery. London: Andre Deutsch, 1989: 35.
[4] Asante, Molefi Kete. “The African American Warrant for Reparations.” Should America Pay: Slavery and the Raging Debate on Reparations. Ed. Raymond A. Winbush. New York: Amistad, 2003:8.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Franklin, John Hope. From Slavery to Freedom: A History of Negro Americans. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1980: 134-35.
[7] Woodward, C. Vann. The Strange Career of Jim Crow. New York: Oxford University, 1974: 7.
[8] Allen, James Hilton et al. Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America. Santa Fe: Twin Palms Publishers, 200: 12.
[9] Ibid at 10.
[10] Thomas-Lester, Avis. “A Senate Apology for History on Lynching.” The Washington Post. 14 June 2005.
[11] Ibid.
[12] National Urban League, Executive Summary, State of Black America 2009 Message to the President with Equality Index.
[13] Asante, Molefi Kete, “The African American Warrant for Reparations.” Should America Pay: Slavery and the Raging Debate on Reparations. Ed. Raymond A. Winbush. New York: Amistad, 2003:5.
[14] Robinson, Randall. The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks. New York: Dutton, 2000:3-5.
[15] Cox, James. “Corporations challenged by reparations activists.” USA TODAY, 21 February 2002.
[16] Ibid.
[17] Williams, Eric. Capitalism and Slavery. London: Andre Deutsch, 1989: 98 -105.
[18] Ibid at 105.
[19] The purpose of the Bill is: “To acknowledge the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery in the United States and the 13 American colonies between 1619 and 1865 and to establish a commission to examine the institution of slavery, subsequently dejure and de facto racial and economic discrimination against African Americans, and the impact of these forces on living African-Americans, to make recommendations to the Congress on appropriate remedies, and for other purposes. “Congressman John Conyers’s (D-MI) Bill for a Study on the Impact of Slavery on African Americas HR40IH, 105 Congress, 1st Session, H.R. 40.” Should America Pay: Slavery and the Raging Debate on Reparations. Ed. Raymond A. Winbush. New York: Amistad, 2003: 332.


  1. SO let's see. Trillions of dollars spent on "Minority Education", "Head Start", "WIC", "Welfare", "Food Stamps", "The Projects", etc... and still this nation cannot get one single crop of black youth that are not psychopathic untrustworthy unemployable idiots?

    Funny, last I knew "Reparations" have already been paid out millions upon billions of times over and what happened to the money? Squandered, spoiled, wasted, and stolen.

    Now shut up you worthless thieves before I beat you into shutting up.

  2. Your racist comments are not worthy of a response. I will keep your comments up to demonstrate that racism is alive and well.

  3. Beautiful response Anson. I notice that the person who posted the original comment did not have the courage to provide his/her name. Coward! One question - Why is there not a museum to educate America about slavery on the National Mall? This tragedy happened right here in the United States. Note that there is a Holocaust Museum prominently placed on our country's National Mall - yet this event occurred in Europe.