For the People: Will Black Communities Ever See Slavery Reparations 

 In 1865, the institution of slavery was outlawed with the ending of the Civil War. Although President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, freeing slaves from confederate states, it was not until two years later that the last slaves in Texas would be granted freedom. Since that time, African descendants continually have paid the price of a business practice that was legally banned over 150 years ago.  


An evolution of laws and orders have kept Black communities disenfranchised and fighting for equality. The push for reparations is beginning to heat up again and African Americans are questioning if an atrocity that lasted generations will be financially righted and if states will issue reparations to the descendants of slaves.  


Recently, America recognized the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa race massacre. In February, just one month after winning a historical election with the help of votes from the Black community, President Biden came out and publicly endorsed the study of reparations for the descendants of slavery. In the months following, there has not been any official measures taken.  


In April, a House committee voted to approve legislation that would create a 15-person commission to study the effects of slavery and determine an amount, or the proper remedy for reparations. The bill, H.R. 40, takes its name from the Government’s promise of 40 acres and a mule after the Civil War, which enslaved Blacks never received. Although the bill has been introduced before, recent attacks against African Americans have created a space to revisit the dialogue. 


“Reparations, unquestionably, is an issue whose time has come,” says Nkechi Taifa, prominent Civil Rights Attorney and a National African-American Reparations Commission Commissioner. “I have waited 50 years for this day, and 32 years since H.R. 40 was first introduced. I’m no longer a teenager, but an elder. It’s time for an official reckoning of the past and the healing that can come from a reparations settlement — distinct from and not to be confused with ordinary public policy, to be fashioned in as many ways as necessary to equitably address the era of enslavement and its lingering injustices that manifest today.” 


First introduced by Congressman John Conyers, the bill came as a result of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 granting reparations to Japanese Americans for being jailed or relocated due to World War II. As history repeats itself more than 30 years later, Asian populations across the states have received yet another advancement in racial protection. The Anti-Asian Hate Bill has been signed and African Americans are left wondering when correction and protections will come for them. 


“It’s not, in my view, a question of pragmatism or how realistic it is, it’s a question of what must be,” says Mark Fancher, staff attorney for the Racial Justice Project of the ACLU of Michigan. “The country continues to experience tremendous racial tension that is moving quickly towards racial warfare because there has never been a reckoning with the fundamental injustices that are at the very foundation of this country.” 


Mark Fancher, Racial Justice Project Staff Attorney for ACLU  

Although reparations are largely viewed and rewarded through financial gain, it can also come in a number of other forms. The Hawaiian Homes Commission Act of 1920 provided a land trust for Native Hawaiians allowing those with at least half ancestry by blood, to lease homes from the federal government for a term of 99 years at just $1.  


“The word ‘reparations’ is arguably a derivative of the word ‘repair.’ When you are seeking to repair something, you have to make an accurate diagnosis of where the damage is,” says Fancher.  


As America rights its wrongs, Black communities continue to stand in the throes of brutality, discrimination and injustice. The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre resulted in more than 300 Black lives lost. One lone survivor, 106-year-old Lessie Benningfield Randle, together with descendants of the massacre, signed a lawsuit in 2020. With no specified amount named in the suit, Tulsa victims are seeking justice for the atrocities of the past.  


For African Americans, the continual fight for equality and justice is evident with today’s racial tensions. The push for reparations will continue.  


“This is an outstanding challenge for the country that it can either embrace or ignore. The consequences of ignoring it are tremendous,” says Fancher.  

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