When the discussions of reparations for African-Americans is being debated, Congress and opponents limit their considerations to what happened to African-Americans during the horrific period of slavery. Yes, there were millions of Blacks who worked on plantations in America and according to historians, millions more died in the Middle Passage, en route to America. Slavery merely set the foundation for the mistreatment of African-Americans for the next 400 years, mistreatment that continues to this day. To fully understand the justification of reparations for African-Americans, the following should be taken under consideration.
Blacks were allies but never enemies
When you take under consideration that African-Americans fought and died in every war from the Revolutionary War to the current conflicts in the Middle East on behalf of America, while consistently being denied the same rights as their white counterparts, one can argue that this fact alone should justify reparations.
African-Americans fought and died in America’s conflicts against Native Americans, but when the wars were over, Native Americans received 49,933 square miles or 1.3 percent of America’s land. African-Americans who were allies, not enemies, received nothing for their service and remained as slaves.
African-Americans fought and died in the Revolutionary War. When the war was over, while whites were rewarded with their “independence” the institution of slavery which had denied Blacks their “independence” for the past 157 years (from 1619-1776) continued.
African-Americans fought and died in the War of 1812, when the war was over, there was no recognition or appreciation for their service and the institution of slavery for their people continued.
African-Americans fought and died in the Civil War, when the war was over, Jim Crow laws and Black Codes were immediately established to deny them their rights. The era of terror began and many soldiers returning home were lynched and killed to “keep them in their place.” President Lincoln claimed that without the 180,000 Black soldiers, the North never would have won the war and the name United States of America would no longer exist.
African-Americans fought and died in World War I, when the war was over they came home to a nation infested with racism and segregation. After fighting in a segregated military they returned home to segregated schools, churches, neighborhoods, restrooms, water fountains, and even Coca Cola manufactured Coke machines had labels which said they were for “whites only.” These practices which were judicially and legislatively sanctioned and were designed to deny African-Americans their constitutional rights. Blacks were ordered to sit on the back of the bus and keep their mouths shut.
African-Americans fought and died in World War II. When the war was over they returned home to rat-infested ghetto neighborhoods and later learned that America was giving the enemy who bombed Pearl Harbor (Japan) $2.2 billion to rebuild their country and Europe $12 billion to rebuild their war-torn cities under the Marshall Plan. African-Americans did not receive one dime to rebuild their communities. In fact the money paid to Western European countries and to Japan included money Black employees paid in taxes. American Japanese received reparations for their internment and Blacks received retributions.
African-Americans fought and died in the Vietnam War. When the war was over America was prepared to offer that country billions to rebuild. America withdrew the funding after Vietnam violated their agreement.
African-Americans fought and died in the War with Iraq. When the war was over America gave Iraq (their enemy) $18 billion to rebuild.
America gave billions to enemies who killed millions of American soldiers (both Black and white) and billions to allied countries who were victims of the war, but never offered African-Americans who were always an ally and never an enemy one dime to rebuild their rat- and roach-infested communities that resulted from America’s racist policies and practices of segregation.
Judicial and legislative injustice
History reveals that from 1619 to 1964 (245 years) there were several laws and racist judicial decisions that specifically targeted African-Americans, from the Dred Scott decision to Fugitive Slaves Laws and cases like Plessy v. Ferguson. According to 450 legal scholars, the justices appointed to the United States Supreme Court during the era of African enslavement included five who supported slavery and four others from slave holding states. Blacks did not have a chance. As in the past, 90 percent of today’s police officers in America are white, 95 percent of the judges are white, 95 percent of all legislators are white, 95 percent of all
prosecutors are white and America’s jury pool is still predominantly white. Outside of their jobs as police officers, judges and prosecutors, most of the whites in these professions do not socialize with Blacks and many live in predominantly white neighborhoods.
400 years of living in terror
African-Americans were more fearful after slavery than they were during slavery. From 1863 to 1945 thousands of Blacks were lynched, mutilated, decapitated, shot to death and burned to death, sometimes for simply trying to vote. The chances of being lynched or murdered during slavery were much less than after slavery because slave owners protected their investments. The Klan was started after slavery. Most of the laws limiting the rights of African-Americans came after slavery. Convict Lease Camps which incarcerated thousands of Blacks were established after slavery. The Black Codes which supplied Black prisoners for these Convict Lease Camps came after slavery. With the exception of the New York Race Riots of 1863, most of the race riots killing thousands of Blacks came after slavery. This period was known as the Era of Terror.
In 1863, Irish whites went on a killing rampage after President Lincoln instituted the draft: they burned down Black homes and businesses and lynched Black people on street lamp poles in the streets of New York. President Lincoln sent troops from Gettysburg to stop the four day New York race riot and no whites were arrested.
In 1863, there were similar anti-Black race riots in Detroit, also protesting against the military draft. No whites were arrested.
In 1873, in Colfax, Louisiana whites killed a number of Blacks in protest of the outcome of the gubernatorial election. Ulysses Grant sent troops to Louisiana to stop the race riots. No whites were arrested.
In 1898, after the election that white Democrats rigged to get rid of all Black candidates in Wilmington, North Carolina, whites went on a killing spree killing Blacks and burning down their communities and businesses. No whites were arrested.
In 1908, 45 years after the Emancipation Proclamation in Lincoln’s home town of Springfield, Illinois, whites lynched Blacks from trees, destroyed the entire Black community and forced over 2,000 Blacks to leave town, simply because a young white girl claimed that she was raped by a Black man. No whites were arrested.
In 1919, race riots broke out in Chicago when whites killed a young Black male who supposedly swam in the white section of the beach.
In 1919, in Elaine, Arkansas, over 200 Black farmers were massacred when they protested against local white land owners who had cheated them out of their cotton crops. No whites were arrested.
In 1921, Tulsa, Oklahoma experienced one of the worst race riots in American history when thousands of whites took to the streets killing over 300 Blacks, because a Tulsa newspaper reported that a Black man had raped a white woman. Historians say that in addition to the 300 that were killed, 800 Blacks were wounded, 6,000 were arrested and thirty-five city blocks in the Black community were burned to the ground and not one white was ever arrested or charged.
In 1923, a similar incident took place in Rosewood, Florida. The entire Black community was destroyed and as many as 150 Blacks were killed. No whites were ever arrested.
In 1963, shortly after President John F. Kennedy gave his famous speech on why Congress must pass the 1963 Civil Rights Act, four young girls who were attending Sunday School were killed at Birmingham, Alabama’s 16th Street Baptist church by a bomb that was planted inside the church. Dr. King’s friend, the Rev. Andrew Young noted that during a one month period, over 60 Black churches were bombed in Alabama as Blacks lived in constant terror after the Civil War. There were so many bombings in Birmingham, Alabama that Dr. King referred to it as “Bombingham.”
From 1863 to 1964 tens of millions of Blacks were denied employment simply because of the color of their skin and millions of others were denied promotions, making it almost impossible for Blacks to become homeowners, thus forcing millions to rent from white landlords. Those who were fortunate enough to become employed had to endure racism on the job as was depicted by Black women in the movie “Hidden Figures” and Cuba Gooding in the movie “Men of Honor.” Sammy Davis Jr., Louie Armstrong, Ray Charles, Lena Horne and other Black entertainers had jobs in the entertainment industry but they could not stay in the hotels where they were performing and were forced to enter those same venues through the kitchen. Black teenagers protested because Dick Clark systematically banned them from his show “American Bandstand.” The few Blacks who had jobs and qualified for home ownership were restricted as to where they could live. Many were banned from white neighborhoods. In 1964, 82 years after slavery, Congress attempted to address these problems with the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the formation of a new government agency called HUD. Black unemployment was the result of racism more than issues of qualifications. The unemployment of Blacks was so prevalent that it became a benchmark of a politician’s success. On June 19, 2019, President Trump boasted that Black unemployment under his administration is the lowest in history. After 400 years, it is front page news today when an African-American is hired as the first Black to hold a certain job or position.
The Black experience
The Black experience with racism did not end with slavery, it actually intensified after slavery. This is the 400th anniversary of African people officially being in the United States of America (1619-2019). During the past 400 years, African-Americans fought and gave their lives for a country that consistently ignored their loyalty and contributions and consistently refused to compensate them as they have for their enemies and allies (Japan, Native Americans and Europe). The Japanese were compensated for their four years of mistreatment during World War II, but African-Americans have yet to receive compensation for their mistreatment during the past 400 years. No other ethnic group in America has contributed as much to the success of America as African-Americans and no other group seeking civil rights has ever suffered like the African-American. Every individual in America has been a benefactor of the contributions and the suffering of African-Americans (i.e., the Gay Rights Movement, Women’s Equality Movement, the Physically Handicapped and others). During the past 400 years, America has given trillions in foreign aid to countries that have never died to protect our freedom and given money to enemies who killed millions of our soldiers in war. Money given to them included millions from the pockets of African-American taxpayers (and the free labor of slaves) and yet when the discussion of reparation comes up, America feels that it owes the African-American nothing.
Our white brothers and sister have often stated, “If you don’t like it, why don’t you leave?” And our response is: “We love the country that we helped to build 157 years (1619) before it became a nation (in 1776), and we love the country that we fought and died for. We just don’t like how we have been treated during the past 400 years:
- Denied jobs for over 200 years simply because of the color of our skin;
- Living in terror as we watched our communities burned to the ground, our churches bombed and men lynched without one white person ever arrested;
- Black soldiers forced to sleep in separate barracks and denied the same civil rights as their white counterparts;
- Having a multitude of legislation passed against us and judicial decisions that denied us justice.
America has compensated both our allies and our enemies. But the question is: when will they ever compensate us? Reparation is owed, not merely for slavery, but for the treatment of our people after slavery (1863-2019). If we can compensate Japanese-Americans for how they were treated in four years, why can’t we compensate African-Americans for how this nation treated them for 400 years?
Dr. Wayne Perryman is president at Consultants Confidential.