Legacy of Slavery…Unequal Exchange Conference: Panel 6: Reparations

The Legacy of Slavery: Unequal Exchange Conference resulted from the passage of Senate Bills 2199 and 1737 in 2000 and was meant to address a number of issues related to the economic and political legacy of slavery, the roles of governments and businesses in this enterprise, and the question of reparations for the descendants of slaves. This panel discusses the issue of reparations.

Silis Muhammad
230 Peachtree Street, Suite 900
Atlanta, Georgia 30303
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The subject is scalding hot, untouchable as public policy. Even the brave run from it. And it is only a question: Should the U.S. government pay reparations to the descendants of slaves?

“Just a question,” says Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), cool, dispassionate, like he’s teaching high school science. “We ask questions about everything. What’s in space? What’s underneath the water? How did the Earth begin? Interesting questions. But this one has been studiously avoided.”

Few questions challenge us to consider 380 years of history all at once, to tunnel inside our souls to discover what we truly believe about race and equality and the value of human suffering.

Ever since Dutch traders brought 20 captive Africans to Jamestown, Va., in 1619, slavery has been entwined with American history–shaping it, tarnishing it, burdening it with the legacy of truths rarely told. Where is it taught that eight of the first 12 American presidents were major slaveholders?

Facts: Emancipation brought freedom, but not parity. The civil rights movement knocked down Jim Crow, but vestiges remained. Affirmative action created opportunities, but racism persists.

So why shouldn’t the great-great grandchildren of those who worked for free and were deprived of education and were kept in bondage not be compensated?

Ask one question and it leads to another and another and a few more. Why should American taxpayers who never owned slaves pay for the sins of ancestors they don’t even know? And what about those whose ancestors arrived here long after slavery ended? And how would the economy be affected? How do you put a price tag on 2 1/2 centuries of legalized inhumanity? In what form would reparations be paid? How would you establish who’s a descendant?

Questions start debates. Which is all Conyers wants. A raging debate.

He is speaking from an anteroom off the floor of the House Judiciary Committee, which this day is debating, by comparison, something tame–physician-assisted suicide. Conyers is the ranking Democrat on the committee, a 34-year veteran of Capitol Hill, dean of the Congressional Black Caucus. But these credentials are not worth diddly when it comes to the subject he has sat down to discuss.

In every legislative session since 1989, Conyers has introduced a bill that would establish a commission to examine slavery and its lingering effects on African Americans and contemporary U.S. society. The commission would comprise historians, legal scholars, genealogists, economists, lawmakers–the brightest minds to be found. Hearings would be held across the country. A report would be issued with recommendations for Congress to act on. Should the U.S. government issue a formal apology for sanctioning slavery? Is a debt owed to the descendants of black people who helped build this country but spent their lives in forced servitude? These questions would be addressed.

“All we’re trying to do is compile a body of intelligence and data on the subject,” says Conyers. “The most organized body of material on the subject in American history.”

You would think a man in his position could at least get a subcommittee hearing on his bill. But the legislation, known as the Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act, has never been debated in Congress. It doesn’t matter if Democrats or Republicans are in charge. The bill just sits.

Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, did not return phone calls, but here’s what he said on the subject several years ago: “The notion of collective guilt for what people did [200-plus] years ago, that this generation should pay a debt for that generation, is an idea whose time has gone. I never owned a slave. I never oppressed anybody. I don’t know that I should have to pay for someone who did [own slaves] generations before I was born.”

Here’s what Jack Brooks, the now retired former Democratic chairman of the committee, says by phone from Beaumont, Tex.: “It just didn’t seem like it was very urgent or very useful. . . . It just looked like a long shot to me. . . . I don’t even think Conyers was pushing it that much. He never mentioned it to me, I don’t believe. . . . What do they want to do? Look up all the descendants of slaves and pay them a lot of money, I guess. . . . I think it would be a waste of the committee’s time. . . . Wouldn’t be much public support. . . . Conyers, of course, would like it. But he’d be about the only one.”

Of the 435 members of the House, Conyers has managed to get but 31 co-sponsors for his bill. Not even all the members of the Black Caucus are on board. In fact, two black Democrats on the Judiciary Committee–Mel Watt of North Carolina and Bobby Scott of Virginia–have declined to follow their Democratic leader.

Watt issued a “no comment” on his nonsupport. Scott will only say that he has put his energy into the issue of juvenile crime. “You can’t focus on everything,” he says.

The rejections don’t deflate Conyers. He leans back in his chair, stares at the ceiling. He is solemn, but it’s a wily solemnity, as though he has queried the gods of restitution and knows something the rest of us don’t.

“I always like to talk to members about it,” he says of his bill, “but I’m not pushing it because our day will come.”

Not pushing it? Even some Conyers supporters think this strategy is wrongheaded. If the bill’s not a priority of its sponsor, why should anyone else take it seriously?

Conyers leans forward. His tie is loosened, his pants are hiked up, you notice his socks sag to his ankles. Looking at him, a 69-year-old warrior of so many civil rights battles, one is reminded of those sage elders who hold court in black barbershops on Saturday afternoons.

He mentions that he wrote the original legislation calling for a national holiday to honor the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., four days after the civil rights leader was assassinated in 1968. Everyone and his cousin hooted it down. They said Conyers was young and naive. In 1983, the federal holiday was established.

The point: Causes that are worth the struggle require an investment of time. You have to whet the public’s appetite, soften opposition, build a case. Turn some folks around. Sometimes the case has to be built behind the scenes first. With scholarship at universities. Lawyers documenting precedents. Meetings in neighborhood basements, firing up the grass roots. All of that is happening now with reparations, says Conyers.

“I see this as a subject in incubation that is probably going to continue to grow until we finally have to approach it and deal with it like all the other controversial issues we deal with.”

Promises Unkept

It is hard to find an African American who has not heard of “40 acres and a mule.” The phrase has survived Reconstruction and made its way onto baseball caps and hip-hop song sheets and even into comedy routines–a kind of cultural signifier for something promised but never delivered.

Forty acres and a mule. The original reparations package.

On Jan. 16, 1865, four days after meeting with black ministers in Savannah, Ga., Gen. William T. Sherman issued Special Field Order No. 15. Thousands and thousands of newly liberated slaves were fleeing plantations and following his Union Army through Georgia. This was becoming a problem.

So with the War Department’s blessing, Sherman set aside land along the Georgia and South Carolina coasts for black settlement. Each family was to receive 40 acres, and Sherman later offered the loan of Army mules. Word of this deal spread throughout the South, and within six months 40,000 freed blacks had settled on hundreds of thousands of acres of land.

Several months later Congress passed a bill establishing the Freedmen’s Bureau to oversee the transition of blacks from slavery to freedom. The bureau had under its control 850,000 acres of abandoned and confiscated land, and it had men such as Gen. Rufus Saxton, a former abolitionist who was committed to creating a class of black landowners. But that summer President Andrew Johnson began allowing former Confederates to reclaim their property.

This would become history’s pattern in succeeding decades: As blacks sought to obtain their due, every small advance, it seemed, was trumped by a setback. Lawmakers such as Rep. Thaddeus Stevens introduced reparations bills in Congress in 1866 and 1867. No luck. In 1915, Cornelius Jones sued the U.S. government, arguing that it had profited from slave labor through a federal tax on cotton. Since the slaves had never been paid, Jones calculated they were owed $68 million. Jones lost his suit.

Even King took up the cause of government reparations for blacks, a little-known fact of his civil rights advocacy. In his 1963 book, “Why We Can’t Wait,” King wrote that while “no amount of gold could provide adequate compensation for the exploitation of the Negro in America down through the centuries,” a price could be placed on unpaid wages.

King was perhaps on to something, but he also was very busy fighting battles on other fronts.

At about the same time, however, a Detroit activist named Ray Jenkins took up the fight and wouldn’t let it go. He could be called the father of the modern black reparations movement. In 1963, he formed a one-man organization called Slave Labor Annuity Pay. He distributed leaflets, made speeches, sent letters to black organizations and personalities. Ultimately, he talked Conyers into introducing his bill. Just wore him down.

Jenkins was inspired by the memory of his grandfather, Will Mobley, a former slave who died in 1958 at age 103.

To think, the Founding Fathers could have saved Grandpa Mobley from a childhood of subjugation when they wrote the Constitution. Ended slavery in 1790, spared the country this awful inheritance. Instead, the founders made people with dark skin a “property right” of white privilege. Blacks as capital assets. Blacks as the materials for a $3 billion industry. Sold at an average price of $778 per person right before the Civil War. That’s $14,428 in today’s money. The cost of a basic farm tractor. To think, if slavery existed today, somebody’s grandpa could be traded for the contemporary equivalent of a mule.

Oh, the thoughts that would go through Ray Jenkins’s head.

He could never forget how much his grandfather struggled. As a sharecropper–the bridge from slavery–he had to give so much of what he earned to the plantation owner that he never could escape debt. He would go door to door with a sack of corn on his back, selling ears for a penny apiece.

“I never got over it,” says Jenkins, 72. “When he died, the relatives had to pass the hat to bury him. That kind of shook me up.”

So Jenkins waged his campaign, so persistently that he earned the nickname “Reparations Ray.” A million bucks for every African American, he proposed. He just made up that figure.

“People laughed themselves to death when I told them we were trying to get some money from the government,” Jenkins recalls of those early days. “But when the Japanese got their $1.2 billion, they stopped laughing.”

In 1988, Congress apologized to Japanese Americans interned in camps during World War II and authorized payments of $20,000 each to roughly 60,000 survivors. Canada followed with its own apology and a $230 million reparations package to Japanese Canadians. All of the sudden, the notion of winning reparations for black Americans didn’t seem so crazy.

Research revealed other examples of reparations. The German government has paid $60 billion to settle claims from victims of Nazi persecution. Various groups of Eskimos, Native Americans, Aleuts and survivors of a 1923 massacre in a predominantly black Florida town have also received restitution–combined, more than $1 billion. In Australia, the government has apologized for its treatment of Aborigines after an official inquiry called it genocide. Compensation is being negotiated.

Knowledge is power.

Soon word spread that the impossible was perhaps plausible. The National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (N’COBRA) continues to sprout chapters, 26 to date, including one in Washington. The group’s attorneys are preparing to file a reparations lawsuit. Last year, Bethune-Cookman College convened a mock trial in Daytona Beach, Fla., at which a biracial jury voted to award blacks reparations. Meanwhile, the National Commission for Reparations is seeking redress through the United Nations. And a growing number of scholars are publishing thought-provoking articles in economic journals and law reviews.

Economist Larry Neal, adjusting for inflation, calculates that unpaid net wages to blacks before emancipation amount to $1.4 trillion today. Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley put the gains of whites from labor market discrimination–just from 1929 to 1969–at $1.6 trillion in present-day dollars.

“What I’m trying to do,” says Richard America, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University’s business school, “is make reparations a serious mainstream public policy concept. It’s not about guilt. It’s not about blame. It’s not about a lot of emotional stuff. This is a problem of accounting.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics should get involved, America says, so that an official historical audit can be done of income diverted to whites because of slavery, segregation and employment discrimination. He estimates that blacks are owed $10 trillion by their government.

The thinkers are not talking about cutting government checks to individuals. Most have grander ideas–free college tuition to African Americans for generations and generations.

One idea, broached by Time magazine columnist Jack White, is to start a reparations fund–a kind of New Freedmen’s Bureau–that would finance such things as school construction, housing and job training centers in areas where slave descendants are a majority. White figures blacks are owed $24 trillion, based on unpaid wages denied 10 million slaves, doubled for pain and suffering with interest added. Installments could be made to the fund over the next 2 1/2 centuries.

“My bottom line is the form of reparations that makes sense is an impassioned recommitment to closing the opportunity gap,” says Christopher Edley Jr., a Harvard law professor and an adviser to President Clinton on race relations. “That’s the reparations we are due. Not 40 acres and a mule, but world-class schools for our kids.”

Syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer once proposed a deal: A one-time cash payment of $100,000 for every black family of four, to be financed through a 75-cent gas tax over 10 years, “in return for the total abolition of all programs of racial preference.”

So now, not only are some blacks arguing for what they believe they are owed, but some whites are also arguing that reparations could be the vehicle for ending affirmative action.

Randall Robinson, president of TransAfrica, has joined the battle with a provocative book due out in January called “The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks.” Robinson has put up a reparations Web site (www.thedebt.net) that he hopes will draw young people to the cause.

“Let me try to drive the point home here: Through keloids suffering, through coarse veils of damaged self-belief, lost direction, misplaced compass, [expletive]-faced resignation, racial transmutation, black people worked long, hard, killing days, years, centuries–and they were never paid,” Robinson writes. “The value of their labor went into others’ pockets–plantation owners, northern entrepreneurs, state treasuries, the United States government.

“Were was the money?

“Where is the money?

“There is a debt here.

“I know of no statute of limitations either legally or morally that would extinguish it. Financial quantities are nearly as indestructible as matter. Take away here, add there, interest compounding annually, over the years, over the whole of the twentieth century.

“Where is the money?

“Jews have asked this question of countries and banks and corporations and collectors and any who had been discovered at the end of the slimy line holding in secret places the gold, the art, the money that was the rightful property of European Jews before the Nazi terror. Jews have demanded what was their due and received a fair measure of it.

“Clearly, how blacks respond to the challenge surrounding the simple demand for restitution will say a lot more about us and do a lot more for us than the demand itself would suggest.”

“The issue here is not whether or not we can, or will, win reparations,” Robinson concludes. “The issue rather is whether we will fight for reparations because we have decided for ourselves that they are our due.”

‘A Lot More to Talk About’

It is virtually impossible to overestimate the difficulty of the fight.

Let’s start with the matter of a government apology for slavery.

Here’s what President Clinton said during his trip to Africa last year: “Going back to the time before we were even a nation, European Americans received the fruits of the slave trade and we were wrong in that.”

That’s it.

And for that, Clinton was pilloried. “Here is a flower child with gray hair doing exactly what he did back in the ’60s,” said House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.). “He is apologizing for the actions of the U.S.”

Rep. Tony Hall (D-Ohio) authored what he thought would be a simple congressional apology for slavery two years ago, a gesture of conscience in the effort to advance race relations. Then came the fiery reactions. Mail ran 60-40 against his proposal. Whites accused him of stirring racial anger by lifting history from the dead. Blacks saw his resolution as empty symbolism.

“I don’t know that we’ll ever apologize while I’m in Congress,” Hall says, “because I’m not sure the country is ready for it. I couldn’t believe the hate and anger that came about because of it, and I got it from both sides.” “Before we get to reparations,” Hall says, “we’ve got a lot more to talk about.”

To get even minimum contemplation on the subject, you have to ask the question. The men and women who make the laws of this country and preside over the government are not ordinarily thinking about the effects of slavery as they go about their rounds. It’s not on their briefing schedule.

Vice President Gore is asked for his views. Long pause.

“I think that it is a question that needs to be dealt with respectfully and with great sensitivity to those who are interested in the idea, not really for the money it represents,” he says in an interview, “but rather for the symbolic atonement they associate with it. At the end of the day, most agree that it’s not a politically feasible idea.”

Gore is then asked if he would support a bill such as Conyers’s that calls only for a study commission. No pause.

“I’m for handling it sensitively without conveying a sense that it’s ever likely to occur, because it’s not.”

“I’m not trying to duck the question,” says Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who is approached outside the Senate chamber after a vote. “I suspect there are a lot of things we could have reparations on. Is it a debate that benefits anyone–black or white? I don’t know the answer to that question.”

“I have never been a fan of reparations for anything,” says Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), who is waiting for an elevator in the Capitol. “There have always been bad things that have happened to people. Slavery was awful. But I don’t think there is anything to be gained by going backward to try to come up with some way to pay for something that you can’t put a monetary price tag on.”

Of course probing questions sometimes yield ironic answers. Suppose there was a financial incentive to prove one’s DNA contained the genes of slave ancestors?

“It would literally pay to be black,” says Armstrong Williams, a black conservative commentator who has just left the office of Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.). Williams is not for reparations. “Everybody and their momma would claim they were black.”

A Mind Opening?

Conyers has heard it all. The jokesters with their wisecracks. The duckers and dismissers, naysaying away. They don’t ruffle him. “In a sense this is just another legal question that has to be answered.”

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Opponents say there is no precedent for paying people who are dead, that reparations are usually awarded to survivors. Advocates say there can be no deadline for justice, that the consequences of slavery have been borne by the living. Opponents say it is unfair to penalize 20th-century immigrants for a system not of their making. Advocates say it is the responsibility of this nation’s government to make amends for the horrors it authorized and promoted.

Conyers knows all the arguments. He also knows it is not often that people will even engage the subject. But every now and then someone will surprise him–perhaps a member of Congress who is ready to give his legislation a look.

“It’s something I certainly would consider,” says Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine). “Has anybody held hearings on this issue? I certainly would not be averse to considering it.”

That’s progress, says Conyers. Another open mind willing to wrestle with slavery’s impact on modern America. Some day, he adds, “the most hidden, important, silent subject we’ve ever had in this country” will be addressed.

“What we’re trying to do now is just get the debate going to see where it will lead us.” By Kevin Merida

The Ethics of Reparations: Engaging the Holocaust of Enslavement
By Dr. Maulana Karenga, CSU Long Beach

Extracted from a paper titled “The Ethics of Reparations: Engaging the Holocaust of Enslavement,” at The National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (N’COBRA) Convention, Baton Rouge, LA, June 22-23, 2001.

The struggle for reparations for the Holocaust of Enslavement of African people is clearly one of the most important struggles being waged in the world today. For it is about fundamental issues of human freedom, human justice and the value we place on human life in the past as well as in the present and future. It is a struggle which, of necessity, contributes to our regaining and refreshing our historical memory as a people remembering and raising up the rightful claims of our ancestors to lives of dignity and decency and to our reaffirming and securing the rights and capacity of their descendants to live free, full and meaningful lives in our times.

But this struggle, like all our struggles, begins with the need for a clear conception of what we want, how we define the issue and explain it to the world and what is to be done to achieve it. There are several ways to frame and approach this important issue or rather different aspects to one larger project: (1) the legislative dimension as with the Conyers Bill, H.R. 40 and local and state bills and resolutions; (2) the legal as N’COBRA and the Harvard group are doing; (3) the political by which there is mass organization to support the project; (4) the economic which is the major focus of all the above efforts; and (5) the ethical initiative which I wish to engage in this paper. Our contention in the Organization Us is that the ethical dimension is the first and most fundamental dimension of the reparations issue and that unless that is engaged and successfully pursued, the issue of reparations will appear to lack moral grounding in the court of national and world opinion, and thus, will be cast as a claim unworthy of support on any other level.

In consideration of the issue of reparations as essentially and foremost an ethical issue, it must above all be framed in ethical terms. Therefore, the struggle for reparations begins with the definition of the horrendous injury to African people which demands repair. In other words, to talk of reparations is first to identify and define the injury, to say what it is and is not, to define its nature and its impact on the one(s) injured. Unless this is done first and maintained throughout the process, there is no case for reparations only an incoherent set of claims without basis in ethics or law.

This is why the established order works so hard to define away the historical and ongoing character of the injury. This is especially done in two basic ways. First, the injury is distorted and hidden under the category of “slave trade”. The category trade tends to sanitize the high level of violence and mass murder that was inflicted on African peoples and societies. If the categorization of the Holocaust of Enslavement can be reduced to the category of “trade” two things happen. First, it becomes more of a commercial issue and problem than a moral one. And secondly, since trade is the primary focus, the mass murder or genocide can be and often is conveniently understood and accepted a simply collateral damage of a commercial venture gone bad.

A second attempt of the established order to deny the horrendous nature of the injury and its essential responsibility for it is to claim collaboration of the victims in their own victimization. Here it is morally and factually important to make a distinction between collaborators among the people and the people themselves. Every people faced with conquest, oppression and destruction has had collaborators among them, but it is factually inaccurate and morally wrong and repulsive to indict a whole people for a holocaust which was imposed on them and was aided by collaborators. Every holocaust had collaborators: the Native Americans, Jews, Australoids, Armenians and Africans. No one morally sensitive claims Jews are responsible for their holocaust based on the evidence of Jewish collaborators. How then are Africans indicted for the collaborators among them?

Although there are other ways, the established order seeks to undermine the factual and moral basis of the African claim for reparations, these two are indispensable to its efforts. And thus, they must be raised up and rejected constantly, for they speak to the indispensable need to define the injury to African people and to maintain control of it.

As Us has maintained since the Sixties concerning European cultural hegemony, one of the greatest powers in the world is to be able to define reality and make others accept it even when it’s to their disadvantage. And it is this power to define the injury of holocaust as trade and self-victimization and make Africans accept it, that has dominated the discourse on enslavement in America. Our task it to reframe the discourse and initiate a new national dialog on this.

We have argued that the injury must be defined as holocaust. By holocaust we mean a morally monstrous act of genocide that is not only against the people themselves, but also a crime against humanity. The Holocaust of enslavement expresses itself in three basic ways: the morally monstrous destruction of human life, human culture and human possibility.

In terms of the destruction of human life, estimates run as high as ten to a hundred million persons killed individually and collectively in various brutal and vicious ways. The destruction of culture includes the destruction of centers, products and producers of culture: cities, towns, villages, libraries, great literatures (written and oral), and works of art and other cultural creations as well as the creative and skilled persons who produced them.

And finally, the morally monstrous destruction of human possibility involved redefining African humanity to the world, poisoning past, present and future relations with others who only know us through this stereotyping and thus damaging the truly human relations among peoples. It also involves lifting Africans out of their own history making them a footnote and forgotten casualty in European history and thus limiting and denying their ability to speak their own special cultural truth to the world and make their own unique contribution to the forward flow of human history.

It is here that the issue of stolen labor and ill-gotten gains which is seen as important to the legal case can be raised. For in removing us from our own history, enslaving us and brutally exploiting our labor, it limited and prevented us from building our own future and living the lives of dignity and decency which is our human right.

At this point, it is important to stress the role of intentionality in the Holocaust. Again, discussion of the Holocaust as a commercial project often leads to an understanding of the massive violence and mass murder as unintended collateral damage. Thus, to frame it rightfully as a moral issue rather than a commercial one, we must use terms of discourse which speak not only to the human costs, but to the element of intentionality. It is in this regard that Us maintains that maagamizi, the Swahili term for Holocaust, is more appropriate than its alternative category maafa. For maafa which means calamity, accident, ill luck, disaster, or damage does not indicate intentionality. It could be a natural disaster or a deadly highway accident. But maagamizi is derived from the verb -angamiza which means to cause destruction, to utterly destroy and thus carries with it a sense of intentionality. The “a” prefix suggests an amplified destruction and thus speaks to the massive nature of the Holocaust.

Clearly, it is issues like these and the ones discussed below which require an expanded communal, national and international dialog, which precedes and makes possible a final decision on the definition and meaning of the Holocaust, and the morally and legally compelling steps which must be taken to repair this horrendous past and ongoing injury. Therefore, in the context of holocaust, it is clear that reparations is more than receiving payments. Indeed, in the Husia, the sacred text of ancient Egypt, we find a concept of restoration, i.e., healing and repairing the world that is appropriate in discussing the reparations project. The word is serudj and it is part of a phrase serudj-ta, meaning to repair and heal the world making it more beautiful and beneficial than it was before. This is an ongoing moral obligation in the Kawaida (Maatian) ethical tradition and is expressed in the following terms: (1) to raise up that which is in ruins; (2) to repair that which is damaged; (3) to rejoin that which is severed; (4) to replenish that which is depleted; (5) to strengthen that which is weakened; (6) to set right that which is wrong; and (to make flourish that which is insecure and undeveloped. Again, then, an expansive and morally worthy concept of reparations as repair and healing requires more than monetary focus and payments.

Regardless of the eventual shape of the evolved discourse and policy on reparations, there are five essential aspects which must be addressed and included in any meaningful and moral approach to reparations. They are public admission, public apology, public recognition, compensation, and institutional preventive measures against the recurrence of holocaust and other similar forms of massive destruction of human life, human culture and human possibility.

First, there must be public admission of Holocaust committed against African people by the state and the people. This, of course, must be preceded by a public discussion or national conversation in which whites overcome their acute denial of the nature and extent of injuries inflicted on African people and concede that the most morally appropriate term for this utter destruction of human life, human culture and human possibility is holocaust.

Secondly, once there is public discussion and concession on the nature and extent of the injury, then there must be public apology. One of the reasons we rejected the one-sentence attempt to get a congressional apology is that it was premature and did not allow for discussion and admission of holocaust. In addition, as the injured party, Africans must initiate and maintain control of the definition and discussion of the injury. No one would suggest or contemplate Germans superceding Jewish initiatives and claims concerning their holocaust, nor Turks seizing the initiative in the resolution of the Armenian holocaust claims. The point here is that Africans must define the framework for the discussion and determine the content of the apology. And, of course, the apology can’t be for “slave trade,” or simply “slavery”; it must be an apology for committing holocaust. Moreover, the state must offer it on behalf of its white citizens. For the state is the crime partner with corporations in the initiation, conduct and sustaining of this destructive process. It maintained and supported the system of destruction with law, army, ideology and brutal suppression. Thus, it must offer the apology for holocaust committed.

Thirdly, public admission and public apology must be reinforced with public recognition through institutional establishment, monumental construction, educational instruction through the school and university system and the media directed toward teaching and preserving memory of the horror and meaning of the Holocaust of enslavement, not only for Africans and this country, but also for humanity as a whole.

Here it is important to note that the first holocaust memorial should have been for Native Americans who suffered the first holocaust in this hemisphere. And we must address their holocaust concerns and claims, as a matter of principle and with the understanding that until and unless they receive justice in their rightful claims, the country can never call itself a free, just or good society.

Fourthly, reparations also requires compensation in various forms. Compensation can never be simply money payoffs either individually or collectively. Nor should the movement for reparations be reduced to simply a quest for compensation without addressing the other four aspects. Indeed, compensation itself is a multidimensional demand and option and may involve not only money, but land, free health care, housing, free education from grade school through college, etc. But whether we choose one or all, we must have a communal discussion of it and then make the choice. Moreover, compensation as an issue is not simply compensation for lost labor, but for the comprehensive injury – the brutal destruction of human lives, human cultures and human possibilities.

Finally, reparations requires that in the midst of our national conversation, we must discuss and commit ourselves to continue the struggle to establish measures to prevent the occurrence of such massive destruction of human life, human culture and human possibility. This means that we must see and approach the reparations struggle as part and parcel of our overall struggle for freedom, justice, equality and power in and over our destiny and daily lives.

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In the final analysis, this requires the bringing into being a just and good society and the creation of a context for maximum human freedom and human flourishing. Indeed, it is only in such a context that we can truly begin to repair and heal ourselves, our injuries, return fully to our own history, live free, full, meaningful and productive lives and bring into being the good world we all want and deserve to live in.

Copyright (c) 2001 Maulana Karenga. All Rights Reserved.

All For Reparations & Emancipation (AFRE) – POSITION STATEMENT –
Silis Muhammad
….27th October 2001

The following is a brief statement of my political position on these urgent questions: Who are we, the so-called African Americans? What damage have we sustained from slavery and its lingering effects? What means of reparation would serve to best restore us? Which legal argument fits our situation? Are there steps we can now take domestically and internationally to assure our progress?

We are a unique people in the earth, rising into self-awareness after more than 400 years of slavery and its legacies. The slave master and his children named us niggers, negroes, coloreds, blacks, and African Americans. We have yet to give name to ourselves. We were kidnapped from our homes, families, tribes and nations. We were forcibly denied our mother tongue, our religion and our culture. We were subjected to forced mixed breeding and rape by the slave masters. These inhumane acts resulted in the destruction of our original identity. We have risen, yet we remain scattered and of many minds. We must now take up the task of joining together, gaining our human rights, obtaining reparations, and restoring (constituting) ourselves.

We have suffered many atrocities, but the greatest damage done to us as a people is the destruction of our original identity. We have been made like unto orphans, lost and without international comfort. We possess no mother tongue to connect us to our place in the homeland, Africa. We are bound together as a people by our common origin, the experience of slavery, and our heroic struggle to overcome slavery’s lingering effects. Because of the destruction of our identity, and particularly, the false picture given by the U.S. Government to the UN about us, we have no international recognition and no collective human rights.

For years the U.S. Government has been successful in persuading the international community that African Americans expressed their will through the civil rights movement, and that our ultimate desire is integration into America, and equality with the white majority. We know that it was not integration, but a desire for justice that gave rise to the civil rights movement. When we went to the UN in person, and asked for recognition, reparations, and a process of ethnogenesis of our collective human rights, the UN began to see the African Americans in a different light. We informed them that we are a people deserving of the right to determine our own future, yet we do not have our rights because we are captives within the identity of the slave master’s children. We speak their tongue, we practice their religion, and we live their culture: we live as Anglo-Saxon clones.

Upon hearing our prayer, the UN recognized that it had an obligation to find a place or create a place within international law where we will fit. If we are to receive reparations that will restore to us the dignity and protection that other peoples enjoy, we must first gain an internationally recognized identity, and our collective human rights.

As we step forth to gain our identity, we have the opportunity for the first time to give name to ourselves. In all humility, I offer the name “LOST FOUND Peoples”, or in the alternative, “LOST FOUND Nations” for consideration. There is no question we have been lost, in the Islands and in many nations. The UN has begun to search for a place where we will fit. Our collective human rights and our reparations, throughout North, Central and South America, the Caribbean and beyond, can potentially be whatever we determine that we need, falling within the parameters of the UN. We are very diverse peoples, or nations, and we have many different needs.

Our legal argument is based upon international law, ratified by the U.S. Government, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Article 27. The covenant says: “In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practice their own religion, or to use their own language.”

We are a numerical minority in the U.S., and the U.S. Government has recognized us politically as a minority, thus we use this Covenant in order to argue our right to reparations.

We know that this covenant did not exist during slavery, when we were first denied the human rights of speaking our own language, practicing our religion and enjoying our culture. Yet we argue that denying us the right to speak our own language, and separating us so that we could not retain it, are acts that constitute a permanent, ongoing denial, as the language is forever lost. Thus the U.S. Government is in violation of Article 27 of the ICCPR.

In addition, we argue that Article 27 of the ICCPR was in existence at the time the U.S. Government disrupted, through it’s infamous counter-intelligence program, the movement of our people toward our choice of culture, identity, education, and government. When we sought to identify ourselves as the Lost-Found Nation of Islam, Republic of New Afrika, Black Panther Party and so on, our activities were undermined and our leaders denigrated, incarcerated and assassinated. In fact, the U.S. still is operating its infamous counter intelligence program today, trying to prevent our rise. And finally, we argue that the U.S. Government violated, knowingly, the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which envisages human rights for everyone, everywhere, by keeping our existence hidden from the UN, in 1948.

The UN has given clear direction as to the avenue through which the so-called African Americans can seek recognition. In 1998, after hearing only a small number of interventions on behalf of African Americans, including my written and oral statements, the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights passed Resolution E/CN.4/SUB.2/RES/1998 in which the Working Group on Minorities was called upon to consider how the Sub-Commission in its future work might address the continuing legal, political and economic legacies of the African slave trade, as experienced by Black communities throughout the Americas. Since that time I have addressed the Sub-Commission three times, and the Working Group on Minorities five times, including twice in forums that the Working Group has organized for the specific purpose of hearing the issues of the so-called African Americans.

Domestically, we will continue to build the government of African Americans that I, along with others, began establishing some time ago. I am firmly committed to the Lost-Found Nation of Islam, and I know of nothing or no combination of things that could alter my resolve. I presume that others feel the same way about whatever it is they believe in. Thus, while retaining, internally, the Constitution of the Lost Found Nation of Islam, we have moved forward to shoulder with you the responsibility of building a democratically elected government that will include all of our people: Christians, Muslims and other creeds.

Internationally, we hope that Black leaders throughout the Americas Region and the Diaspora will join us in support of the efforts of the Working Group on Minorities. Information can be gained from an expert paper written by one of the Working Group members, Professor Jose Bengoa. In his writing he demonstrates an understanding of our situation, our rise, and our desire for restoration. He defines it as the process of ethnogenesis.

Silis Muhammad
230 Peachtree Street, Suite 900
Atlanta, Georgia 30303

Saul Williams – List of Demands


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