There are times when the editorials in the major dailies take positions on subjects that we applaud. On the other hand, there are some that are absolutely off the mark, so disturbing that we feel a need to respond. Not too long ago there was one on reparations—a topic rarely discussed by the mainstream media unless the aim is to denounce any plan for compensating Black Americans for their slave labor or the subsequent years of sharecropping and wage slavery during the days of Jim Crow.
Reparations, the editorial charged, were already being dispensed to African-Americans via affirmative action, welfare, food stamps, block grants, Section 8 housing, so-called “Wars on Poverty” and the mere fact that Black Americans are now citizens of the United States and thereby rescued “from the ravages of Africa.”
This is the same kind of insensitive, asinine argument that we have heard ever since the idea of restitution for enslavement was raised at the end of the Civil War. With the arrival of the Reconstruction period, a rumor spread that the recently emancipated African captives would be the recipients of 40 acres and a mule, and all that turned out to be was a rumor.
Toward the end of the 19th century, Callie House and the Rev. Isaiah Dickerson established the National Ex-Slave Mutual Relief, and Pension Association of the United States, and the short version on this organization was a demand for reparations, a small pension for those previously living in bondage. To stifle this initiative, the government launched a relentless investigation of House, and while they couldn’t find any wrongdoing on her part, they could exercise their judicial power and manufacture a trumped up charge to imprison her, thereby putting an end to the Association.
Over the years, there have been similar reparation movements, such as the one led by the indomitable Queen Mother Moore and when the political activist James Forman presented his “Black Manifesto” in the late 1960s. At the core of Forman’s demands was a payment from the churches and corporations that had benefited from the exploitation of Black workers.
Since 1989, Rep. John Conyers has been a diligent proponent of reparations through his bill H.R. 40, Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act. All the Michigan congressman is requesting is that government undertake an official study of the impact of slavery on the social, political and economic life of the nation. The bill has never made it to committee, repeatedly tabled instead.
About the same time Conyers was fighting on the legislative front, civil and human rights activists were forging the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America. It has spearheaded a series of conferences and workshops with the sole purpose of unifying the movement and blending it with the efforts of Conyers.
Much of the history of the reparations movement and the current strategies under discussion, particularly as the issue reaches beyond the U.S. and envelops Europe, Latin America, Asia and the Caribbean, will take place this week in New York City, led by Dr. Ron Daniels and the Institute of the Black World 21st Century.
You can find out more about the three-day event in the “Calendar” section of this paper and certainly at website www.IBW21.org, but here’s a taste of what’s in store from Daniels as a large contingent of notables gather at the three sites:
“As the case for reparations for Africans in America is advanced,” Daniels said in a press release, “we need a much more coherent message about key issues and questions that are often raised by our people like the ones cited above. Hopefully, as NAARC (National African American Reparations Commission) engages in its deliberations, it can be helpful in formulating and advancing recommendations on these vital issues and questions. I continue to believe that HR-40, the Reparations Study Bill, introduced by Congressman John Conyers Jr. every year since 1989, can be a valuable organizing tool to generate discussion and action on this vital issue.”
Other oppressed and exploited people have received reparations for the horrendous crimes committed against them, and it’s time we mount a critical mass to at least get this government to join some of the already engaged governments of the Caribbean in a serious, sustained discussion of reparations. This grave injustice began with the international slave trade—something even the United Nations declared was a crime against humanity—and as the generations of African-Americans have learned, the subsequent denial of civil and human rights only compounded that atrocity.
Let the cry for reparations reverberate across the city this weekend!