hearing cites atrocities to Blacks
by Memorie Knox
CHICAGO—More than 200 supporters packed Chicago City Council
chambers April 26 to hear powerful and heart-wrenching testimonies by
Black legislatures, educators, activists and historians in a hearing to
discuss reparations for the descendants of Black American slaves.
Inspired by a resolution introduced on March 15 by Alderman Dorothy
Tillman, a former organizer for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the joint
hearing of the Finance and Human Relations committees shed light on the
300 years of institutionalized slavery and the 100 years of legalized
segregation. The hearing also exposed the continued cruel treatment and
denial of opportunity to Blacks, which historians and legislators
believe have caused "post-traumatic slave syndrome", impeding
the community’s social, economic and educational progress.
The committee passed Ald. Tillman’s resolution—which supports
H.R. 40, a bill introduced by Congressman John Conyers (D-Mich.) calling
for a commission to study reparation proposals for Black Americans. The
resolution now goes to the full city council for discussion and possibly
passage. Similar resolutions have been passed in Michigan, Ohio, Texas
"We built this country without compensation. In fact, Blacks
built Washington, D.C., our nation’s capital. They carried the marble
on their backs and put each piece in place. Some died due to the sawdust
in their lungs. If you go to the capital, you would never know that we
"Also, African children were used as child laborers during the
building of New York," Ms. Tillman said.
The NAACP, the National Conference of Black Lawyers, the National Bar
Association, the Council of Independent Black Institutions, the
International Association of Black Professional Firefighters, the
Association of Black Psychologists and the National Conference of Black
Political Scientists also expressed support for the resolution.
Referring to slavery and its aftermath as the "Black
Holocaust", Ms. Tillman has estimated that 80 to 100 million
Africans died from starvation and disease due to brutal treatment during
the voyage to America and other regions. She said that slave labor is
the root of wealth and some of the finest agricultural products in U.S.
Dr. Claude Anderson, author of "Black Labor, White Wealth,"
and president of the Harvest Institute in Washington, D.C., said the
booming stock market today is a result of unpaid Black slave labor.
"Blacks were producing 99% of the items listed on the stock
market—shoes, clothes, iron, timber, rice, sugar, cotton—and the
higher the value of the slaves working on the products the more the
price of the products went up," Dr. Anderson told The Final
Call. "People were hedging their bets based on the commodity
going up or down based on the number of slaves working on those
"We must focus on real problem[s] of structural economic
inequity which means we even have to separate wealth from income,"
Nation of Islam Chief of Staff Leonard Muhammad, after visiting Ald.
Tillman, told the Final Call: "Obviously, now more than ever there
will be a need for a voice of clarity in this debate. The Honorable
Elijah Muhammad has taught us that we should demand in order to repair
the condition caused by over 400 years of slavery.
"The leadership in the Black community urgently needs to sit
down so that we may discuss this issue and arrive at a consensus and
speak with one voice," he said.
Historian Lerone Bennett and Congressman Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) both
agreed that the starting point for healing is with an apology from the
"Why has it been so difficult to get somebody high in this
government to apologize for slavery and to make amends? If you hurt
somebody you have to compensate," said Mr. Bennett, an editor of
Ebony magazine. "People say they weren’t here then. They were
here in oaths their parents swore in their name … that they freely
reassume everyday by accepting the illicit gains of slavery and
segregation. They were here during share cropping," he said, calling
for a Marshall Plan for Black communities and a GI-type bill for
individual payments to Blacks.
"Reparations are payable when a crime against humanity has been
committed," said Rep. Rush, a co-sponsor of the Conyers Bill.
"Certainly, we can all agree that 400 years of slavery constitutes
a crime against humanity. And those who commit a crime must make
"Although we came in shackles, we came to these shores as
members of human families and communities with intact identities,
abilities, traditions and inspirations. All of this was damaged and
destroyed at the hands of America. Beyond being forced to benefit others
and having our bodies maimed, tortured and broken, our language,
culture, religion and human dignity was distorted, damaged, diminished,
denied and/or destroyed. We as a people were wronged by America,"
said Dr. Wade Nobles, founder and past president of the National
Association of Black Psychology and Black Studies at San Francisco State
Dr. Noble’s testimony was so gripping—describing how pregnant
Black females had their bellies ripped and babies killed as they fell
from their wombs simply to entertain white slave masters—that Ald.
Carrie Austin revealed to reporters that her grandfather was a slave in
Rocky Mound, N.C. While trying to get social security for her father,
the alderwoman learned that he was listed as property of a plantation
owner behind the owner’s "most prized animals." She told
reporters that her family moved north after her father stole a cow to
feed his family and would have been killed.
Ald. Tillman’s ordinance comes three years after $7 million dollars
were issued to the survivors of the 1921 Rosewood, Fla., riots and the
recent acknowledgement that reparations are due to Black survivors of
the deadly 1923 race riot in Tulsa, OK.
Ald. Tillman noted the continuous reparations granted to Native
Americans for land stripped from them and to Japanese-Americans who
survived World War 2 internments. The U.S. government also supports
restitutions to the survivors of the Jewish Holocaust and the
appropriation of land to the Aborigines taken by Australia during the 18th
and 19th centuries.
"The reparations movement (in America) is over 150 years
old," said Dr. Conrad Worrill, chair of the National Black United
Front and an economic commissioner for the reparations N’Cobra.
"What form and how it will take place is what we’re discussing.
It can be land, good and services, technology transfers… that’s why
we need an organized body like N’Cobra, to think through what kind of
reparations African people will receive in this country."
"The dialogue is just getting started but the potential is so
great," added Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.). "If we want to move
to the point that all men and women are endowed by their Creator with
certain inalienable rights and among these are life, liberty and the
pursuit of happiness, it’s hard to pursue happiness if I don’t have
the tools or the wherewithal, if I’ve got to feel that every time I
make a move that I’m viewed a certain way because of my prior position
of servitude or the way I wear my hair.
"This is an opportunity for America to put on the table a
different look at herself, and out of this can come a country we never
dreamed of," he said.