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August 22, 2014, 7:44 am

Reparations: More than chump change

What do you think of reparations for the descendants of slaves? Over the next year African Americans will have an opportunity to illustrate their political priorities. Do you believe African Americans will yield to symbolism of re-electing Barack or rekindle the movement to be paid just reparations?

Who among us can disagree that racial discrimination, slavery and Jim Crow are the reasons for African Americans’ economic inequities? America’s most contentious issue today is the same as it’s been for 150 years: That the descendants of American slaves should receive compensation for their ancestors’ bondage and unpaid labor. To most Americans it’s unfathomable that reparations be paid for slavery. But, “Slavery” is internationally recognized as a crime for which there is no statute of limitations. Slavery flourished in the United States from 1619 to 1865, in an inhumane deprivation of Africans’ lives under which they were held against their will, treated as property and forced to work without compensation. American slavery was followed by 100 years of government-led-and-supported denial of equal and humane treatment that included Black Codes, convict lease, sharecropping, peonage and Jim Crow practices of separate and unequal accommodations that lasted until the 1960s.

During the period of slavery the U.S. Capitol and White House were built for free and the nation became most prosperous in the world. Calculations of many of our ancestors’ coerced and uncompensated labor total more than $700 trillion in today’s money. Millions of contemporary African Americans suffer as a direct result of slavery and Jim Crow; yet Black Americans refuse to engage in conversations about reparations for slavery.

Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and chattel slavery descendants continue to be denied their rights of inheritance and full economic opportunities. Mainstream Americans refuse to engage in discussions about reparations despite the fact that American laws and practices continue treating Blacks in unequal manners in virtually every area of life including law enforcement and penal system, healthcare and life expectancies, education and wealth.

More is owed to American descendants of slaves. What can be done to atone for the sustained and heinous crime that occurred? Who among us gained from the capture and sale of human beings? Who were their benefactors? What did past laws have to do with the fact that Black households of today still have barely one-tenth the net worth of white households? A comparison of the quality of life for Blacks and whites in categories related to economics, health, education, civic participation and social justice shows the overall well-being of African Americans barely three-fourths that of whites.

In January 1989, Detroit Congressman John Conyers (D) introduced House Resolution Bill 40, the Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act. The bill advocates for the federal government to undertake an official study of the social, political, and economic impact of slavery on our nation. It is designed to create formal dialogue on the issue of reparations through a national commission established to examine the impact of slavery and continuing discrimination against African Americans and make recommendations concerning any form of apology and compensation.

As we move toward the 2012 election, the symbolism of having a Black in the White House pales in the light of what the payments of righting the wrongs of slavery and Jim Crow would total for descendants of American slaves. These injustices are the root cause of many critical issues affecting African Americans today. The question is whether Black Americans will throw their political clout behind post-racial silliness, and not address the subject of reparations or initiate constructive dialogue on the role of slavery and racism in shaping present day conditions. Reparations can begin the healing process in a nation that has been divided on the basis of race for centuries.

Blacks need to note how the legacy of slavery and its vestiges contribute to current societal and economic inequality. Hopefully, this will lead more of us to support H.R. 40 and lend voice to demands that any and all political contenders commit to appropriate determination and allocation of reparations. — (NNPA)


William Reed is available for speaking/seminar projects via