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Reparations: What's good for the goose is good for the gander

Updated on April 25, 2012

Should reparations be paid to the descendants of slaves?

YES, I firmly believe they should! If Germany was held to be responsible for their atrocious actions, why hasn't the United States of America owned up to it's behavior. Yes an apology was issued by the United States Senate (146 years after Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation) but the topic of reparations has seemingly died down. I'm here to say that an apology is not sufficient when one takes into consideration the lingering aftereffects of slavery.

Doing the research on this topic brought forth alot of negative emotions in me. I learned that many Americans like to refer to slavery as something that happened in the past and we (African Americans) need to move on. As if it were that simple. Just recently Newsweek Magazine reported that Conservative Group, Family Leader, in a pledge called the "Marriage Vow" made the following statement:

"African Americans children had a better life under slavery than today."

This pledge was signed by presidential candidate Michele Bachman, I repeat, presidential candidate Michelle Bachman. Can you imagine what would happen if she were to win the presidency? For anyone to make a statement like that in this day and age shows me three distinct things: extreme ignorance, a blatant attempt to sugarcoat one of the worst atrocities in the history of mankind, and that racism is alive and flourishing.

The idea of reparations to slaves began with Union General William T. Sherman. In a meeting at the sea at Savannah, General Sherman met with twenty black men to discuss how to deal with tens of thousands of freed blacks left homeless due to the war. General Sherman issued Field Order 15 to deliver "forty acres and a mule" to each slave. The order gave abandoned plantations on the barrier islands of South Carolina and Georgia to freed blacks, and as a result, forty thousand of them resettled there.

At or about this time The Freedman Bureau was created. This was a national relief program for slave refugees. Tunis Campbell, an African American Methodist Episcopal minister from New Jersey became superintendent of Georgia's Island for the Freedman's Bureau. Under Campbell, St. Catherine's Island became a separatist democracy for four hundred blacks with its own Constitution, Congress, Supreme Court, and armed militia. They also planted food crops and started school, but their triumph was short lived. With the assassination of Abraham Lincoln at the end of the war, the experiment of St. Catherine's Island ended. The next President, Andrew Johnson, ordered the confiscated lands returned to their former owners, the Federal Government forced the freed slaves off the land, and the former owners returned to the plantations. With the promise of land lost, most of the freed slaves had no choice except to work for the returning plantation owners under an unfair system known as sharecropping.

Now that we know a little more about the history, let's explore some of the key arguments against reparations. (1) One of the first arguments is who should pay? (2) Another argument is who should collect? (3) And finally, they argue since slavery was legal at the time, why should anything be owed? Those against reparations also argue that besides the Government (U.S.) being on the hook, what about the African tribes who sold their neighbors or the Spanish and Portuguese sailors who transported the slaves to the United States, and also should only the Caucasian descendants of slave holders have to finance these reparations?

To me the purpose of these arguments is an attempt to shift blame. It is common knowledge that the slave trade was far reaching. Many countries, nations, companies, and individuals profited greatly from slavery. This I have no quarrel with. But as an American citizen, I don't want to play the who is to blame game. I want America to acknowledge how it enslaved a race for four hundred years and pay up! How can you enslave a race, strip them of their names, culture, language, etc., and then set them free with nothing to call their own, and expect them to prosper? Although today the race has made great strides we are still suffering from the aftereffects of slavery and the racism that it bred.

There's a popular belief that black men do not marry their women or care for their children. Although this may be true of a segment of the race the question (s) one should ask themselves is why is that? Well if you can't find an answer, let me help you out, SLAVERY. If anyone knows anything about about breeding animals they will see the correlation. If you place fear, anger, passivity, etc., into a breed these same traits will manifest themselves into the bloodlines for generations and generations. Male slaves were instilled with fear, taught that their wives, and children belonged to master. So why would it seem that strange that these same traits are being manifested today. America must do more than apologize!!!

The second argument is who should pay? The don't pay them anything crowd again tries to muddle the issues with trivialities. The questions that they raise are as follows: How would the Government define the beneficiary class? Would that class include all blacks in the U.S. or only those descended from slaves? And what about the descendants of free slaves, should they too collect? On the one hand, I want to say compensation should be due only to those descended from slaves, but when I give the issue deep consideration, I have to take into account that "slavery" was the cause and "racism" was the effect. One ended, the other continues to this day. So I would say compensation is due to all slave descendants and any one of color who can demonstrate a genuine case of discrimination.

Last but not least, they argue that the government should not pay because slavery was legal at the time (well so was Nazism). In my paralegal studies I learned that there are four schools of legal thought. Number one is the natural law school, which holds that there is a universal law applicable to all human beings. Number two is the passitivist school, which holds that there is no law higher than the laws created by the government. Number three is the historical school which stresses evolutionary nature of law. Number four is the legal realism, which views law as a tool for promoting social justice. Of the four, natural law holds the highest position. Those who base their argument on the fact that slavery was legal are relying on positive law ( the written law of a given society) and we all know that man has erred countless times in treating his fellow man justly, but at least some have corrected their errors (hint hint Germany.)

Anyone with a conscience knows that slavery was unjust, and many slaves suffered greatly from its practice, so why no compensation? Our legal system is based on action at law and action in equity. The first one deals with law breaking, and the second one corrects or undo's some wrong or injury, among other things. If we took a national survey of America's citizens, I'm positive that the majority would admit that slavery was wrong. They might say we should get over it, but they'll admit that it was wrong, unjust, and evil. Therefore there should be no obstacle in seeking justice in a court of equity.

Precedence for reparations has long been established. In 1988, the U.S. issued an apology and paid $20,000 to each Japanese-American who was held in internment camps during World War II from 1941 to 1945. Germany has paid out 78.4 billion marks ($47 billion U.S.) on the basis of the 1965 Federal Restitution Law to persons, especially Jews, who had been persecuted during the Third Reich era on the basis of race, religion, origin, or ideology.

So as we can see the legal precedence has been set. I find it mind boggling that our government paid Japanese-Americans money for an ordeal that lasted for four years, but they balk when it comes to settling a wrong that existed for four hundred years, and counting. It is no secret that Black Americans own very little of America. Some would argue that the reason for this is because we don't strive to achieve, I beg to differ. Many of us have made significant economic gains, but the fact remains that a large portion of our population live in poverty. This fact can definitely be attributed to slavery and its aftereffects. We came here with nothing and you've given us nothing. That is why America is a land of haves and have nots. The wealth of the country is disproportionately spread. This needs to be corrected. The time for America to correct its wrong is long overdue. America must pay!!!

Cast your vote for Reparations

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    • Georgie Lowery profile image

      Georgianna Lowery 5 years ago from Slaton, Texas USA

      Your Hub is interesting, but I have some questions.

      If the US did decide to grant reparations, how would the money be doled out? What do you consider a fair sum as an apology for what was done to your ancestors? Also, where would the money come from? And, finally, to qualify for reparations money, would the descendants of American slaves have to provide proof of their genealogy?

      Also, one correction you may want to make: Slavery began in the US in the early 1600's (I think the first recorded African slaves were in Jamestown in 1619) and was abolished in 1865. That's 246 years, and not over four hundred as you state in your Hub.

      By the way, I'm not arguing, disagreeing or agreeing. I just have questions and want to help you with the accuracy of your article. (I'm also white and living below the poverty line.)

    • bigtymic profile image
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      bigtymic 5 years ago from Far Rockaway

      Thank you for your interest and comment. I acknowledge your questions and maybe soon i'll address them in another hub. As for you pointing out that I need to make a correction, I never erred. Yes slavery was abolished in 1865, but as we know that was just when the actual legislation was passed. Slavery still persisted in the form of sharecropping, and then it evolved into mental slavery (jim crow, racism, lynchings, etc.,) which continues to this present day. As far as your statement that you're white and living below the poverty line, I truly sympathize with you, but I didn't write this hub to address poverty in America (that's another hub)I simply wanted to point out that an grave injustice was done to an entire race and there should be no obstacles in seeking compensation especially in light of the fact that compensation was paid to others (hint, Native Americans, Japanese-Americans, Jews)so why not African Americans? And once again I thank you for your comment, and I truly hope your financial situation brightens in the near future, as well as my own.

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