Reparations-More Than Just a Check
Randall, Robinson, Diversity Employers
In the wonderful book Strong Men Keep Coming by Tonya Bolden, there is a reprint of a letter dated August 7, 1865, written by Jourdon Anderson, who was once a slave in Big Spring, Tennessee. The letter is written to his former owner, Colonel P. H. Anderson, who had written to the ex-slave in Dayton, Ohio, where he had resettled with his wife and children. The colonel had written to persuade Anderson to return to Big Spring and work for him as a free man.
I got your letter, and was glad to find that you had not forgotten Jourdan, and that you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can....
I want to know particularly what the good chance is you propose to give me. I am doing tolerably well here. I get twenty-five dollars a month, with victuals and clothing; have a comfortable home for Mandy,--the folks call her Mrs. Anderson,--and the children--Milly Jane, and Grundy--go to school and are learning well.... Now if you will write and say what wages you will give me, I will be better able to decide whether it would be to my advantage to move back again.
As to my freedom, which you say I can have, there is nothing to be gained on that score, as I got my freedom papers in 1864 from the Provost-Marshall-General of the Department of Nashville. Mandy says she would be afraid to go back without some proof that you were disposed to treat us justly and kindly; and we have concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you.
I served you faithfully for thirty-two years, and Mandy twenty-years. At twenty-five dollars a month for me, two dollars a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount eleven thousand six hundred and eighty dollars. Add to the interest for the time our wages have been kept back, deduct what you paid for our clothing, and three doctor's visits to me, and pulling a tooth for Mandy, and the balance will show what we are in justice entitled to....
Please send the money by Adam's Express, in care of V. Winters, Esq., Dayton, Ohio. If you fail to pay us for our faithful labors in the past, we can have little faith in your promises in the future. We trust the good Maker has opened your eyes to the wrongs which you and your fathers have done to me and my fathers, in making us toil for you for generations without recompense.... Surely there will be a day of reckoning for those who defraud the laborer of his hire....
Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me.
Colonel Anderson never paid Jourdon Anderson what was owed him for his labor, nor had any of the other slaveholders (including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson) who had stolen the labor of tens of millions of blacks and, by so doing, robbed the futures of all who would descend from them. And the United States government was complicit in this mass injustice of defrauding "the laborer of his hire."
Following emancipation, former slaves began asserting that they be paid the debt owed them if "emancipation" was to be more than a legal technicality. Indeed, both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate passed legislation providing reparations to America's former slaves. President Andrew Johnson, a pre-emancipation slaveholder, vetoed the legislation however.
With black Americans continuing to press for their own reparations, David Ben-Gurion responded thusly to Jews being awarded reparations by post-war Germany via the 1952 Luxemburg Agreement:
".... a precedent has been created by which a great State, as a result of moral pressure alone, takes it upon itself to pay compensation to the victims of the government that preceded it. For the first time in the history era people that has been persecuted, oppressed, plundered and despoiled for hundreds of years in the countries of Europe, a persecutor and despoiler has been obliged to return part of his spoils and has even undertaken to make collective reparation as partial compensation for material losses. …