The annals of history are stained by an undeniable era of darkness; though the genocide remains unspoken, trivialized and sanitized – Africans and persons of color were the victims of an unimaginable holocaust that spanned 400 years costing between 50 and 100 million lives.
Cities and villages were burned and razed, cultural treasures and technological contributions were ravaged and destroyed; a continent was raped – her youth and potential stolen, her resources exploited, a history was erased and a people denied their purpose and worth.
Born royalty, princes and princesses were stripped of their birthright, and they with their people robbed of God’s priceless gifts of freedom, dreams and aspirations.
With their dignity stripped, their beauty and worth denied, and families cruelly torn apart, a proud people were made outcasts in hostile, foreign lands and reduced to material property to labor and toil by an unenlightened society. Bound in chains, an innocent people were stuffed in squalid ship holes to die of hunger and sickness, to drown in ferocious storms or to survive to live an existence of degradation and hell…
When Union forces captured the South in 1865 and put a formal end to slavery and its cruel and degrading practices, President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) and the federal government focused on restitution and reconstruction. The earliest reparations plan offered each freed slave 40 acres of land and a mule to work this land.
Under the auspices of this plan, General William Sherman (1820-1891) “set aside tracts of land in the sea islands around Charleston, SC” exclusively for freed slaves. Within a short time, about “40,000 freed slaves [had been] settled on 400,000 acres in Georgia and South Carolina.”
However, when President Lincoln was assassinated, his successor, Andrew Johnson (1808-1875), a southerner from North Carolina, rescinded the federal government’s promise and reversed the reparations program. Former slaves were then evicted from their new lands that reverted back to white ownership. Despite Johnson’s opposition, Congressman Thaddeus Stevens (1792-1868) made a feeble attempt in 1867 proposing an unsuccessful bill that again called for distributing land to freed slaves.
Ten years later, when reconstruction ended followed by the passage of repressive, restrictive laws (e.g. Jim Crow) and the formation of white terrorist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) in the south, plans to address “the atrocities of slavery” and compensate its victims were forgotten. Afterwards, African-Americans saw little justice, were denied their constitutional rights, and subjected to terrorism (e.g. the entire town of Rosewood, FL was destroyed in January 1923 by white mobs while local officials sworn to uphold the law watched and even participated, leaving up to 80 black men, women, and children dead) and illegal lynching for nearly 100 years until the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s finally liberated them.
By the time Lincoln’s “Emancipation Proclamation” was implemented through force, four million Africans and their descendants had been enslaved in the U.S. and its colonies from 1619 to 1865, which played an integral role in leading to and accelerating America’s rise in becoming the “most prosperous country.” With this fact, the original promise implemented by General Sherman, calculations of the “sum total of the worth of all the Black labor stolen through means of slavery, segregation, and contemporary discrimination” ranging from $5 to $24 trillion, and estimates of the original plots given to and then stolen from freed slaves being valued at about $1.5 million each, the time for slave reparations is past overdue when the concept of “unjust enrichment” is pursued as advocated by Randall Robinson, the author of “The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks.”
Accordingly, despite many obstacles, including legal and low support among whites, the slavery reparations movement has been revived and is “gaining momentum.” In 1989, Congressman John Conyers (b. 1929) introduced H.R. 40 “to examine the effects [that slavery and its remnants –] Jim Crow have had on African-Americans since emancipation,” which to date lacks the necessary support required for passage. Next in 2000, based on careful research by Deadria Farmer-Paellmann (b. 1965), an Adjunct Professor of Law at Southern New England School of Law, who discovered evidence that Aetna wrote “policies on the lives of enslaved Africans with slave owners as the beneficiaries,” the company issued an “unprecedented apology” giving birth to the “corporate restitution movement.”
By 2002, nine lawsuits had been filed, the most copper mugs notable in the federal courthouse in Brooklyn, NY against FleetBoston Financial, CSX (a major railways firm) and Aetna for direct involvement in the slave trade. Currently cases are pending “against 20 companies from the banking, insurance, textile, railroad, and tobacco industries.” At the same time, California and twelve other states have enacted disclosure laws requiring insurance companies doing business within their boundaries to reveal “their role in slavery,” while boycotts are being staged against firms named in the Farmer-Paellmann litigation that are challenging restitution demands.
Despite critics, the case for slavery reparations is convincing and strong:
The disparity between African Americans and Whites ($6000 vs. $88,000 net worth) would have been significantly smaller had President Johnson not rescinded Lincoln’s original promise or if the 1867 Reparations bill would have passed giving freed slaves “an economic foothold before waves of European immigrants poured into the U.S. during the latter decades of the 1800s.
The United States has already given land away in its 230-year history. Approximately 246 million acres of “productive” land was given to about 1.5 million people through the Homestead Act. Ironically out of the 1.5 million beneficiaries that included many white immigrants, there were only 4000 native African Americans.
Internationally, land has also been awarded to compensate victims of injustices. The most notable example is the creation of Israel, which has benefited countless Holocaust (1938-1945) victims and their families.
Precedents also exist for monetary payments to victims of injustices. Since 1952, the German government and corporations (along with those of Austria and Switzerland, to name others) have paid more than $120 billion to fund early Israeli projects and compensate Holocaust survivors. Presently about 120,000 Holocaust survivors (once about 275,000) are still receiving lifetime reparation payments. At the same time, “Japanese-Americans interned during World War II are receiving reparation for their loss of property and liberty during that period” after filing a lawsuit under the Federal Tort Claims Act, which “waives the government’s ‘sovereign immunity’ in some situations,” and American Indian tribes have and continue to receive compensation for “lands ceded to the U.S. by them in various treaties.”