Reparations Need to be Part of the Conversation about Racial JusticeRoundup
tags: racism, emancipation, reparations, Protest, Tulsa Massacre
Nichole Nelson is a 2020 Ph.D. graduate of Yale University and her research focuses on the history of the Civil Rights and Fair Housing Movements.
Over the past month, protests across the country, and even the world, have erupted in response to the death of George Floyd by white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. While the protests have focused on police violence, the issues of racism are deeply rooted and multifaceted. In fact, addressing police brutality is not enough. Racial equality also demands addressing the economic inequality begot by centuries of white supremacy.
Since the days of slavery, white wealth has been built on the backs of black people. Historian Steven Deyle estimates the value of all enslaved African Americans across the American South in 1860 as at least $3 billion — three times the amount of all capital in the North and South combined, 12 times the value of the cotton crop and seven times the value of all currency in circulation. Simply put, African Americans were the genesis of American wealth and prosperity during the antebellum period. Enslaved people themselves were counted as property and then their labor created products sold domestically and internationally in ways that boosted value of the country’s currency.
Washington, D.C., slave owners were paid reparations during the Civil War. President Lincoln worried that slave owners in border states would defect to the Confederacy. To ensure these slaveholders remained loyal to the Union, even as their states voluntarily emancipated slaves, Lincoln compensated them for their losses. In Washington, federal legislation awarded them up to $300 for every emancipated enslaved person.
While Union General William T. Sherman’s Special Field Order No. 15 initially made similar promises of 40 acres of land to former slaves as well as promises of autonomous, self-sufficient African American communities stretching along the coasts of South Carolina, Florida and Georgia, President Andrew Johnson overturned it, returning the land to the very people who had declared war on the United States.
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