resolution passed in Chicago
by J. Coyden Palmer
History was made here May 17 as the cityís aldermen approved a
resolution asking Congress to hold hearings to consider paying
reparations to descendants of African slaves.
The city council voted overwhelmingly to approve the measure after
Aprilís emotional testimony by scholars on how the effects of slavery
are still manifesting themselves in the lives of Black Americans today.
Chicago Mayor Richard Daley also came out in support of the measure.
Mayor Daley has had a bittersweet relationship with the Black community.
His comments on reparations drew praise from many Black political
leaders. Ald. Dorothy Tillman, who sponsored the resolution, called
Mayor Daleyís stance "courageous."
"Other cities in the country are now looking at Chicago,"
Ald. Tillman said. "We are taking the initiative and setting the
trend for other cities in this nation to follow suit. Chicago has taken
the lead on the whole reparations issue."
The measure was approved with a 46-1 vote. The lone vote against the
measure came from the councilís only Republican member. "Slavery
was a terrible thing," Ald. Brian Doherty began, "and it is
something none of us are proud of. But the fact of the matter is none of
the people in the 41st Ward participated in this tragedy so I couldnít
vote in good conscience for this measure."
Other white aldermen didnít agree with Mr. Dohertyís theory. Ald.
Bernard Stone not only voted in favor of the measure, but also issued a
public apology to the Black community. Ald. Stone said during hearings
held in April that he realized how important it was for Blacks to hear
the words "Iím sorry."
"Slavery didnít end with the Emancipation Proclamation,"
Ald. Stone said. "The residuals of slavery are still being felt
Mr. Stoneís apology opened up a wealth of condolences on the part
of other white aldermen and even included an apology by the mayor.
"You apologize for a wrong," Mayor Daley said. "You
apologize because itís the thing you were taught to do when you were
young and you committed a wrong. It doesnít matter the race of the
person, you just apologize because what happened was wrong."
Critics say the vote was more of a symbolic gesture than anything
meaningful. Mayor Daley responded by saying it still could serve as a
catalyst for getting Congress to hold hearings on the matter to
determine if reparations should be paid and if so, how.
The how question was raised by several aldermen, even those who voted
in favor of the measure.
"I want to go on record as saying I am in support on paying
reparations to a people who have been disrespected for far too
long," said Ald. Burton Natarus. "My only question is how do
we determine who should be compensated and where do we get the resources
to do it?"
Ald. Tillman also conceded that she didnít know how to find the
resources for reparation payments. "However," she said,
"sometimes you have to just do what is right and feel your way
along as you go."
Others are concerned about what will happen to the Black community
should a measure to approve the payment of reparations be approved by
Congress. Speaking at a program commemorating the 75th birthday of
Malcolm X in Chicago, City Colleges of New York professor Dr. Leonard
Jefferies raised another issue of concern.
"There is no need to give reparations if the people arenít
educated on how to use it for their best interests," Dr. Jefferies
argued May 19. "You must combine your economic and political power
under an umbrella of culture and invest in your own communities."
It is not yet known whether or not Congress will address the issue in
its next session, but Ald. Ed Smith said it is time the federal
government wakes up and takes notice to what is happening.
"The issue of reparations is being talked about all over the
country," he said. "Why isnít it being talked about in
City councils in Detroit, Cleveland and Dallas have passed similar
measures urging Congress to hold hearings on reparations.
Alderman Dorothy Tillman (3rd Ward) talks wit fellow alderman during
approval of Chicago City Council resolution seeking congressional
hearings on reparations. Ald. Tillman was the sponsor of the