It is astounding to me that in 2019, African-Americans are still fighting for equity. We have been treated as less than, since we were brought in chains to this country.
At the Peoria Summit on Racial Justice & Equity hosted by Illinois Central College and Peoria Public Schools last month, I had the opportunity to ask Keynote Speaker, Professor Ted Shaw, his thoughts on Reparations for Black people. He stated, “If nothing else, this country needed Philosophical Reparations. At least tell the truth. We need truth and reconciliation. There is a need for money to be invested in impoverished communities of color.”
Professor Shaw stated that African-Americans have spent 83% of our existence in this country enslaved or under Jim Crow. There has been 350 years of legal subordination of Black people. It wasn’t until 1964 that it became illegal to discriminate because of race. He stated that the wealth gap between Blacks and Whites are virtually the same today as it was after the Civil War.
Former slave owners built their wealth on the institution of slavery. Enslaved men and women could not enter into legal marriage, because slaveholders claimed their bodies, movement, and even reproductive capacity.
In 2001 the Associated Press published a 3-part investigation into the theft of black-owned land, documenting some 400 victims and 24,000 acres of land valued at tens of millions of dollars. Land stolen through intimidation, violence and even murder. In some cases, government officials approved the taking of the land, and other cases they took part in it.
In one documented case, on October 4, 1908, fifty hooded white men surrounded the home of David Walker, a Black farmer, from Hickman, KY and ordered him to come out for a whipping. When Walker refused to come out and shot at them instead, the mob set fire to his house. Walker, his wife and four of his five children ran out of the house. His oldest son perished in the fire. The mob shot them all, wounding three children and killing the rest. No one was ever charged with the murders and the surviving children were deprived of the land, their father died trying to protect. The 2 1/2 acres were folded into the property of a white neighbor.
In 1891 a Chicago Tribune editorial stated “they have been taught to labor. They have been taught Christian civilization and to speak the noble English language instead of some African gibberish. The account is square with the ex-slaves.”
In a 2014 Atlantic newspaper article, Ta Nahesi Coates said in response to this Tribune’s editorial, “Not exactly. Having been enslaved for 250 years, Black people were not left to their own devices. They were terrorized… In the Deep South a second slavery ruled. In the North, legislators, mayors, civic organizations, banks and citizens colluded to pen Black people in ghettos where they were overcrowded, overcharged and under-educated. Businesses discriminated against them, police brutalized them, and the notion that Black lives, Black bodies, and Black wealth were rightful targets remains deeply rooted in the broader society.”
Coates said that America will never be whole, unless it reckons with its compounding moral debt.
From 1930-1960, Black people across the country were largely cutout of the legitimate home mortgage market. In 1934, Congress created the Federal Housing Administration, insuring private mortgages, causing a drop-in interest rates and a decline in the size of the down payment required to buy a house.
The FHA adopted a system of maps that rated neighborhoods according to their perceived stability. Green areas rated “A” indicated “In Demand” neighborhoods, that was white only. Neighborhoods where Black people lived were rated “D” and usually considered ineligible for FHA backing, they were colored in red. This virtually locked African-Americans out of the greatest mass-based wealth opportunity in American history.
The Pew Research Center estimates white households are worth roughly 20x’s as much as Black households. In 1979 white Americans earned an average hourly wage of $19.62 compared to $16.07 for Black Americans, a 18.1% wage gap. According to Economics Policy Institute in 2015 the racial wage gap was 26.7%, with white having an average hourly wage of $25.22 compared to $18.49 for the average Black wages.
Beginning in 1989, Detroit Congressman, John Conyers Jr. introduced HR 40 a bill calling for a congressional study on slavery and its lingering effects and appropriate remedies. In January of 2019 Rep Sheila Jackson Lee, of Texas introduced bill HR40, with thirty co-sponsors. The bill is with the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Justice.
According to The Hill newspaper, Speaker Nancy Pelosi supports the Jackson bill. Pelosi was quoted as saying “One of the things that we can do, not only just in terms of trying to make up for the horrible, sinful thing that happened in our country in terms of slavery, but for our country to live up to who we think we are.”
Nkechi Taifa, a human rights lawyer stated recently, “the unjust enrichment of individuals, companies and the US government from slavery’s generations of labor, depravation and terrorism, cries out for remedy.”
He went on to say, “Reparations is repairing and restoring. It is a formal acknowledgement and apology, recognition that the injury continues, a commitment to redress and actual compensation.”
Will we ever see the justice we deserve? Not likely, but we are due that check, Dr. King reminded this government it owed to its African-American citizens.