Reparations 101

5:30 p.m.

The Idea of Reparations
Reparations for the slavery is not a new idea. Before the Civil War ended, General William Tecumseh Sherman issued an order in South Carolina. He wanted 40 acres and the loan of an Army mule set aside for each former slave family. This order was never carried out. After the war, Radical Republicans in Congress passed laws requiring confiscation of former-Confederate property to provide the ex-slaves with "40 acres and a mule." In 1866, President Andrew Johnson vetoed the legislation.
The next push for reparations took place at the turn of the century. Several black organizations lobbied Congress to provide pensions for former slaves and their children. One bill introduced into the U.S. Senate in 1894 would have granted direct payments of up to $500 to all ex-slaves plus monthly pensions ranging from $4 to $15. This, and several similar bills, died in congressional committees. The pension movement itself faded away with the onset of World War I.
During the 1960s, some black leaders revived the idea of reparations. In 1969, James Forman (then head of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) proclaimed a "Black Manifesto." It demanded $500 million from American churches and synagogues for their role in perpetuating slavery before the Civil War. Black nationalist organizations, such as the Black Panther Party and Black Muslims, also demanded reparations.
In the 1980s, a new call arose for black reparations. It was stimulated by two other movements that successfully secured payments from the U.S. government. The Supreme Court in 1980 ordered the federal government to pay eight Sioux Indian tribes $122 million to compensate for the illegal seizure of tribal lands in 1877. Then in 1988, Congress approved the payment of $1.25 billion to 60,000 Japanese-American citizens who had been interned in prison camps during World War II.
In April 1989, Council Member Ray Jenkins guided through the Detroit City Council a resolution. It called for a $40 billion federal education fund for black college and trade school students. About the same time, a conference of black state legislators meeting in New Orleans backed the idea of a federally financed education fund for descendants of slaves. Shortly afterward, Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-MI) drafted a bill calling for the establishment of a congressional commission to study the impact of slavery on African-Americans.

The Conyers Bill
Rep. Conyers introduced his bill (HR 3745) in November 1989. The preamble of the bill declared its purpose:
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, subsequent de jure and de facto 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.
This bill failed to make it to a House vote, but Conyers did not give up. In every session of Congress since then, he has introduced new legislation to establish a commission to study the issue and make recommendations to Congress. While none has succeeded, Conyers vows to keep trying.
Throughout the years, people have proposed different reparation plans. Some, like Robert Brock, a Los Angeles campaigner for reparations, argued for direct payments to descendants of slaves. "The government owes us money on a number of different fronts," the 66-year-old black activist declared, ". . . for labor, for loss of culture and of humanity."
Some supporters of reparations, like journalist Ron Daniels, proposed government financing of a national fund to develop educational and economic opportunities for the entire African-American community. Daniels argued in an editorial that "America must own up to its responsibility to make a damaged people whole again."
Others, such as the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (N'COBRA), advocate a broader approach. They believe that government could satisfy the call for reparations by a variety of means, including land, ownership of companies, stock, money, and aircraft. The group also calls for a method of self-government for American blacks to give them autonomy.
Just as advocates are not unanimous about the form of reparations, neither are they united on the amount. Some favor direct payments to slave descendants ranging from $25,000 to $100,000 or more. Others, like N'COBRA, believe a final amount cannot be determined until more study has been done to determine the harm slavery has caused blacks. But they suggest the total amount could be in the "trillions."
Reparations 101 Reparations 101 Reviewed by Anson Moore on January 04, 2020 Rating: 5

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