Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

The Politics of Reparations: The Academic Epistemic Communities and the Implications of Reparation Debate on African-American and Africa's Quest for Reparations

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

The Politics of Reparations: The Academic Epistemic Communities and the Implications of Reparation Debate on African-American and Africa's Quest for Reparations

Article excerpt


Reparation may denote any of the following: payment of debt owed; an act of repairing a wrong or injury; to atone for wrongdoing; to make amends; to make one whole again the payment of damages; to repair a nation, compensation in money, land, or materials for damages. Writing on reparations for African-Americans, Brooks (2004: p. IX) defined reparation as "a moral obligation to apologize and to make that apology believable by doing something tangible". For African-Americans, Ogletree Jr. (2002) pointed out that reparation stemmed from, but not limited to a "breach of contract" between the newly freed slaves and the government after the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, and the subsequent promise under the promise of "a plot of not more than (40) forty acres of tillable ground" issued by General William T. Sherman.

The discourse on reparation for African-Americans has gained momentum and will continue to gain significance in the future. The reparation scholarship reached new levels since the 1980s due to the impetus from the legislative precedent set by the US Congress in passing the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 which provided the basis for compensation to Japanese Americans interned during the Second World War. This created the notion that African-Americans' quest for reparation was a derivative of the above case. On the contrary, historically, it is more germane to say that African-Americans' demand for reparation predates both the Jewish Holocaust and Japanese American settlements. There is no doubt that what began as individual efforts (such as those by Paul Cuffe, Gustavas Vassa, Benjamin Banneker, Phillis Wheatley, Bishop Henry M. Turner and Jupiter Hammon for whom reparation meant a return to Africa), later crystallized in constructive demand for compensatory and restorative justice which characterized the end of the Civil War to the 1930s. More significantly it became a product of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. The objective of this paper is to contribute to the ongoing scholarship on reparation discourse by identifying the epistemic communities, examining their core arguments on the issue of reparation to African-American, and their implications to the wider issues of reparations to Africa for slave trade and colonialism.

Historical Background to Reparation

The idea of reparation to African-Americans has a long and chequered historiography beginning from black leaders like Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King Jr., to international and Pan African organizations such as the Marcus Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), the Pan Africanist Movement, and the controversial ideologies of DuBois and Malcom X. Following the activism of reparation, Verdun (1993) identified four stages/phases of the reparation movement, and Brooks (2004) has divided these activisms into three main periods: the slavery, the post-slavery, and the post-Holocaust periods.

Following the demand in 1969 for the payment of $500 million to Blacks from the Churches and Synagogues by African-American activist, James Forman; the United States Government reparation payments to various groups (Alaska Natives Land Settlement in 1971, the Klamaths of Oregon in 1980, the Seminoles of Florida in 1985, and the Japanese Americans 1990); the HR. 40 bill of Congressman John Conyer in 1989; the formation of the National Coalition of Black Reparation Activists (N'COBRA); and the publication of Randall Robinson's The Debt: What America owes to Blacks, the post-Holocaust era has witnessed the reemergence and revivalization of the moral and legal arguments in favor and against reparations. Similarly since the 1990s, reparation debate has become a serious issue of focus in college campuses and editorials of leading newspapers. For example, in 2003, the Boston College Law School hosted a symposium on reparation in memory of Arthur C. Harris. Prior to this event, the database of Lexis-Nexis indicated that there were 85 stories on slavery and reparations before 1991, 83 stories in 1995, 103 stories in 1999, 396 stories in 2000, and 1117 stories in 2001 (figures cited in Brophy, 2004). …

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