Reparations

Reparations (1990)

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Themes: Education and Families | Poverty, Progress, and the Rise of African-American Businesses and Professionals |

Guests: Ray Jenkins, Christopher Alston
Host : Trudy Gallant
Producer : Tony Mottley


Summary: That idea of "forty acres and a mule" came to be seen by the emancipated slaves as a promise of compensation from the federal government for their long years in bondage. But the promise went unfulfilled as the government soon reversed course, reclaimed the land from the former slaves and returned it to the white landowners after the war ended.

Since that time, the idea of some form of reparations to African Americans for the injustice of slavery has been raised periodically. This Detroit Black Journal program from 1990 was broadcast at a time when that idea was experiencing a resurgence. A bill had fairly recently been introduced in Congress by U.S. Rep. John Conyers of Detroit which called for the creation of a commission to examine the issue.

In the program, host Trudy Gallant discusses the question of slavery reparations with Ray Jenkins, a Detroit civil rights activist and real estate broker, and Christopher Alston, a local historian. Jenkins had been advocating some sort of reparations since 1967, and Alston had explored efforts in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to win congressional approval for some sort of aid to the former slaves.

Jenkins discusses the transformation of his own reparations proposal from his suggestion in 1967 that each African American receive $1 million, to his most recent plan that calls for creation of a $40 billion trust fund. That fund would provide free scholarships for African American students seeking to attend colleges and universities. "Black people need education to survive in this country," he says.

Alston discusses the history of reparations proposals in Congress. He describes how early proposals (there were at least eight between 1890 and 1916) focused on some sort of pension that would have been given to former slaves. Those proposals called for pensions of between $100 and $500 per former slave.

Alston and Jenkins discuss the rationale for reparations so long after the end of slavery, and point out that the argument for slavery reparations had been strengthened by the recent decision to make reparations payments to Japanese Americans who had been placed in internment camps during World War II.

"They stayed in concentration camps for three years and they're going to get $20,000 each, and black people stayed in slavery 246 years and haven't got a nickel," Jenkins says. "It's not a handout, it's a debt that's owed from the federal government."

This program is a valuable introduction to the issue of slavery reparations, the history of attempts to address the issue, and the rationale behind the movement to promote reparations.