Reparations, a Fundamental Issue of Social Justice

Article excerpt

My own interest in the reparations movement started in the 1970's when my teacher and mentor at Stanford, Dr. St. Clair Drake, arranged for me to attend the Sixth Pan-African Conference in Dar es Salem, Tanzania. These conferences were held to focus on efforts to end colonial rule in Africa and to promote economic and political development within the African nations. I traveled as part of a delegation of over two hundred African Americans, but the member of our delegation who had an enormous impact on me was Audrey Moore, affectionately known as "Queen Mother Moore." Viewed by many as the matriarch of the reparations movement in America, she forced us to give serious attention to the issue of reparations for American descendants of African slaves at a time when many of us were focusing on economic and political reform in Africa. Although I had studied African and African-American history, this trip was the first time that I learned anything about the struggle for reparations.

Reparations for slavery finally achieved credibility in 1988, when a bipartisan congress granted reparations to Japanese Americans interned by the government during World War II. Congressman John Conyers of Detroit took the next step when he introduced HR 40, legislation proposing to conduct a study of slavery and to determine whether there is a basis to provide reparations to descendants of African slaves. At the same time, a group of scholars and activists from around the United Stated created N'COBRA, the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America, which has led the push for reparations at the grassroots level.

My recent involvement in the reparations movement stems from my close friendship and working relationship with Randall Robinson, President Emeritus of TransAfrica, an African-American think tank focused on political and economic reform. Three years ago, Randall and I were chosen to serve as co-coordinators of the Reparations Coordinating Committee and have spent the last two years engaged in legal research, political activism, and other scholarly pursuits focused on the issue of reparations.

In 1999, Randall completed his highly influential book The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks and persuasively argued why it was the right time to force the American government to provide reparations to the descendants of African slaves who now reside in the United States. But more than the economic arguments, what most moved me about his book was the description of the slaves, captured and transported through the middle passage, who had been all but forgotten find never commemorated. My dream for Reparations is to take up and make our own the forgotten dreams of our Africans ancestors lost during slave trade. My dream for Reparations is to force America, and the world, to pay attention to their suffering loss of life, liberty, language, and culture. I wish to celebrate our African diaspora, by forcing the West to come to terms with its history of discrimination, and to account for the manner it has profited at the expense of Africa and Africans everywhere.

The Reparations Coordinating Committee, consisting of legal scholars, public officials, activists, and academies from many disciplines, was formed shortly after the publication of Mr. Robinson's book. We have been conducting research and exploring a variety of options in the effort to make the case for reparations. The mission of the Reparations Coordinating Committee is to ascertain, document, and report comparative repair and restitution in the United States and abroad on behalf of the contemporary victims of slavery. and the century-long practice of de jure racial discrimination which followed slavery. Our overall objectives are to detail a range of feasible relief and reform initiatives aimed at reconciliation as well restitution for the burdens of discrimination.

We have assembled an incredibly powerful group of lawyers to work on people of African descent in American history. …