The Final Call Online Edition


WEB POSTED 05-15-2000


Reparations Resonate

Reparations 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 and Louisiana.

"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 existed.

"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. history.

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 products.

"We must focus on real problem[s] of structural economic inequity which means we even have to separate wealth from income," he said.

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 American government.

"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 reparation."

"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 University.

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.



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