Many blacks, and far too many whites, still believe that blacks contributed little or nothing to the creation of wealth in this country.
Dr. Claud Anderson’s book, Black Labor-White Wealth, 1994, shows how the labor of African-American men and women from the days of slavery to the present helped to lay the wealth-building foundation for this country.
The second annual National Reparation Convention took place beginning March 25 on the South Side of Chicago. It’s also fitting that the convention not only started during the first week of spring, but also the last week of Women’s History Month. Thank God for black women. In a remarkable display of courage and desperation, seven black ladies in 1818, Winny, Celeste, Milly, Matilda, Julia Rachel, and Charlotte, who had no last names and could not read or write, sued for their freedom in the white man’s courts in Missouri.
The State of Missouri at that time provided free lawyers for them. Missouri quit providing free lawyers in 1856, after the Dred Scott decision. From 1806-1865, hundreds of other blacks boldly sued for their freedom in white courts in St. Louis, Missouri. Their stories had been hidden since the Civil War in documents now being studied, found among heaps of musty affidavits, stashed in metal cabinets by state archivists in the Show-Me state. So blacks going to court to sue the federal government and others for slavery reparation is nothing new.
Efforts to compensate African Americans for slavery began formally on Jan. 16, 1865, months before the Civil War ended. On that day, Union General William Tecumseh Sherman issued Special Field Order 15, directing his soldiers to divide up confiscated confederate farms into 40-acre plots and redistributed the land to slaves. Farm animals were also to be redistributed.
But Sherman’s promise of “40 acres and a mule” was never realized. Four months after the order was signed, President Lincoln was assassinated. His successor, southerner Andrew Johnson, largely opposed reconstruction and quickly rescinded Sherman’s order. More than 40,000 slaves were removed from farms they had recently occupied.
In the years since Special Field Order 15, the idea of compensating African Americans had gained considerable steam, propelled by high-profile events, such as the 1987 N’COBRA academic conferences on the subject. The historic class action lawsuits filed in 2002 by descendants of African-American slaves seeking reparation was dismissed by a federal judge on Jan. 27, 2004, here in Chicago. This is my eighth column about reparations over the past five years. Here are 10 compelling reasons why reparations deserve a serious look, none of which, I believe are racist:
• The U.S. Government, not long dead southern plantation owners, bears the blame for slavery, which was encoded in the Constitution in Article One, that designated a black slave as three-fifths of a person for tax and political representation purposes. Slavery was protected and nourished in Article Four by mandating that all escaped slaves found anywhere in the nation be returned to their masters.
• Major institutions profited from slavery. The insurance industry was not the only culprit. Banks, shipping companies and investment houses also made enormous profits from financing slave purchases, investment in southern land and products, as well as the transport and sale of slaves.
• Slavery ended in 1865, but the legacy of slavery still remains. As of 2005, studies indicate that blacks are still the major economic and social victims of racial discrimination. They are far more likely to live in underserved segregated neighborhoods, be refused business and housing loans, and be denied promotions in corporations.
• There is a direct cost for slavery’s legacy. Former Federal Reserve Chairman Andrew Brimmer estimated that discrimination costs blacks $10 billion yearly from the black-white wage gap, denial of capital access, inadequate public services and reduced social capital access, inadequate public services and reduced social security and other government benefits. This is called “The Black Tax.”
• The U.S. Government has shelled out billions since the 1960s to pay for resettlement, job training, education and health programs for refugees fleeing Communist repression. The majority of the public and politicians enthusiastically backed these payments with smiles on their faces, as the morally and legally correct thing to do.
• The reparations issue will not fuel more hatred of blacks. Most citizens admit that slavery was a morally monstrous system that wreaked severe pain and suffering on our country. But there was no national outcry when the U.S. Government made special benefits to Japanese Americans interned during WWII, native Americans for theft of lands and mineral rights, and Philippine veterans who fought with the American army during WWII.
• No legislation has been proposed that mandates taxpayers to pay billions to blacks. Michigan’s Congressman John Conyer’s bill that has languished in Congress since 1989 simply establishes a commission to study only the effects of slavery”i.e. to just bring it up for discussion.
• There is a precedent for paying blacks for past legal and moral wrongs. In 1994, the Florida legislature agreed to make payments to the survivors and relatives of those who lost their lives and property when a white mob destroyed the all-black town of Rosewood in 1923. The Oklahoma state legislature is currently considering reparations payments to the survivors and their descendants of the destruction of black neighborhoods in Tulsa by white mobs in 1921.
• Michael Jordan, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Cosby, Tiger Woods and other mega-rich blacks and millionaire sports athletes would not receive a penny in reparations. Any tax money to redress black suffering should go into a pool to bolster funding for HIV/AIDS education and prevention, to expand job skills and training, to offer drug and alcohol counseling and rehabilitation, to provide computer access and literacy training programs and to improve services for the estimated 30 percent of blacks still trapped in poverty. Another method of payment is a sort of Marshall Plan, similar to the one used to rebuild Europe after the United States bombed and almost completely destroyed the continent during the Second World War.