Plantations Aren’t Paying Reparations, But Have Started Programs To Give Back To DescendantsBreaking News
tags: slavery, Civil War, Southern history, tourism, public history, reparations, plantations
Joy Banner is a descendant of people who were enslaved on Louisiana’s Whitney Plantation, and she thinks families like hers, on whose labor enslavers made their fortunes, should get reparations. But not necessarily in cash.
Banner, 42, wants to increase land ownership for descendants, which might take the form of a land conservancy or community land trust controlled by people whose ancestors were enslaved in the area. For 300 years, Banner’s family has lived in or near Wallace, La., which is about 50 miles west of New Orleans.
Having more control over the local environment is especially important to Banner because the region, referred to as “cancer alley,” suffers from severe pollution by petrochemical plants. Residents of the area face an elevated cancer risk that disproportionately affects Black neighborhoods. A one-time cash payout won’t solve this kind of systemic problem, she said.
“There are as many different forms of reparations as you can think of, because healing looks different in every community,” Banner said. “It’s my calling from God to do what I can to protect the descendant community and help us grow.”
The push for reparations, on both a local and federal scale, has recently made headlines, especially in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder and a subsequent racial reckoning. Evanston, Ill., in March became the first U.S. city to approve a reparations program for its residents. The $10 million project includes housing grants funded by the city’s taxes on recreational marijuana. Some praise the program as a solid first step, while others argued its focus on homeownership excludes too many people. At the federal level, a 30-year-old bill to study and develop reparations proposals called H.R. 40 was recently approved by a House committee.
Some private institutions that benefited from owning enslaved people have taken steps to address that injustice, in part because they can draw a direct line from slavery to their enrichment. In 1838, the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus, which ran Georgetown University, sold hundreds of enslaved people to pay off debts, and in 2019, the university announced it would create a fund providing about $400,000 per year to benefit the descendants of people it enslaved. This year Virginia Theological Seminary began paying reparations in cash to the descendants of people who labored there during slavery and Jim Crow, going back to the seminary’s founding in 1823. It is drawing those payments from a $1.7 million endowment fund.
Plantations that now serve as museums have worked in recent years to better acknowledge the experiences of enslaved people, rather than focusing on those of enslavers. Although none has implemented a formal reparations program, some have launched scholarship programs to benefit their Black descendants.
Banner will sit on both sides of the negotiating table as Whitney’s director of communications and a co-founder of the Descendants Project, which advocates for the descendants of people enslaved in the area.
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