Insight News

Feb 12th

In the age of Obama, is the movement for reparations dead?

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Like many Black Americans, the Project 21 Black Conservative Leadership Network called the US Senate’s “apology for slavery” resolution “useless”.  But, Project 21 seems to be singing somebody else’s agenda when they say: “apologizing for slavery and segregation will be used as a lobbying tool to acquire reparations payments.”   Is the concept of reparations for Blacks a dead issue and is Project 21 contributor Jimmie L. Hollis right in urging the Senate to “move on”? Hollis says: “As an American of African ancestry, I think this apology is ridiculous and useless.  It is just another ‘feel good’ action.  If we are to start apologizing for every injustice and wrong done in the past, we will spend the next few decades just apologizing.”

Most American descendants from slaves would agree “an apology is not enough.”  In 2010, a disproportionate number of African Americans are in jails and ensconced in judicial systems. Unemployment among Blacks remains, as it has for decades, twice that of Whites.   Black institutions, social agencies, education and communities are typically funded below rates for Whites.  Yet, in the face of America’s institutionalized pattern of discrimination, this cadre of young Blacks steadfastly stands for the status quo.

Can any deny the “rightness” of reparations?  Its human and legal rights advocates say African American reparations are based on a legal precedence: that when a society or group willingly and knowingly commits a crime or “moral wrongs”, a form of compensation is due.  The movement has been led, before his death, by Johnnie L. Cochran, Randall Robinson and a venerable constitutional attorney Dr. Robert L. Brock.  Cochran was heading a reparations for slavery lawsuit against the United States of America. 

Brock says “a debt is owed Blacks for the centuries of unpaid slave labor that built America’s early economy and money owed from discriminatory wage and employment patterns Blacks have been subjected to since emancipation”.  A legend in Black Reparations circles, Brock gets little mainstream media with statements like: “The wealth of America is our legal property.  But we must make our legal claims to get money as others have.”

Before some Project 21 contributors were out of high school, Brock was holding meetings across America, supporting US Rep. John Conyers’ H.R. 40 Bill “to form a Commission to Study Reparations Proposal for African Americans”.  In the years before he became House Judiciary Committee Chair, Conyers made it a ritual to submit H.R. 40 in Congress each year since 1989.  Basically H.R. 40: 1) acknowledges the fundamental injustice and inhumanity of slavery; 2) establishes a commission to study slavery and its subsequent racial and economic discrimination against freed slaves; 3) studies the impact of those forces on today’s living African Americans; and 4) commission would then make recommendations to Congress on appropriate remedies to redress the harm inflicted on living African Americans. 

But the imperative of correcting and repairing the legacy of slavery and its continuing effects on African Americans is on the skids.  Conyers has now given up on what now appears to have been a 20-year facade of legislating for slave reparations in America.  Conyers was recently quoted saying “the reparations issue is too controversial to pursue at this time.”

For the few who think things have changed, for most Black Americans, situations have remained the same.  For the majority of African Americans the vestiges of slavery and de jure segregation continue.  Yet, the House Judiciary Committee’s first Black head now says reparations are “too controversial to pursue”.   At a time when America has its first Black President and first Black Judiciary Chair; it is more than ironic that the level of discussion about absence of wealth, work, educational, and economic capacity among Blacks is more muted than under previous people in those positions.

It’s odd that Blacks would damper down discussions about reparations during the Presidency of a Black man?  Are the voices of Project 21’s protégées the political reality?  Have conversations regarding rectifying economic injustices done Blacks completely died; or will African Americans give attention to, and make the passage of, H.R. 40 a priority despite Conyers and Obama?

(William Reed –


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