Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Reparations Scholar Activism: An Interview with Adjoa A. Aiyetoro

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Reparations Scholar Activism: An Interview with Adjoa A. Aiyetoro

Article excerpt

IMZ: Thank you for agreeing to participate in this interview on the importance of reparations, and your role in its development.

AAA: Thank you for asking me to make this contribution to the journal. I am honored and humbled.

IMZ: In reading your bio, you have been concerned with the issue of African American reparations for some time. Why did you decide to tackle this often controversial and misunderstood issue of reparations for the formerly enslaved descendants of African Americans in the U.S.?

AAA: In 1980, I was working as an attorney with the Special Litigation Section of the U.S. Department of Justice. The focus of that section was the rights of the institutionalized and my caseload was largely prisons. As I toured the prisons in my caseload I was continually struck by the black and brown faces. This combined with my long-time work on angst over the conditions of black and brown people in general, the poverty, the disparate, in fact discriminatory, treatment that was a daily experience for most black people in every arena including education, health, wealth, employment and criminal punishment. I was returning to work one day and noticed an ANRO poster that had a picture of "Uncle Sam" pointing out with the words: "Black people Uncle Sam Owes you (trillions of dollars)." I immediately said Yes! and became instantly committed to working for and lifting up reparations as the real remedy for the U.S. caused and supported dehumanizing treatment of Africans and their descendants from our enslavement to today.

IMZ: I understand that you have taught a courses on reparations (e.g., "Issues in Reparations" at the University of California Santa Barbara Center for Black Studies and Department of Black Studies and "Litigating Reparations for African Americans" at American University Washington College of Law in D.C.), and you have incorporated the issue of reparations in sections of the other courses you have taught. In regards to introducing the course in the curriculum, how was it received by the school or faculty? And second, what content did you include in the courses, and in general, why were they selected?

AAA: In the mid-nineties, Adrienne Davis, then a professor at Washington College of Law, American University and now, Vice-Provost at Washington University in St. Louis, MO, asked me to co-create and co-teach a course entitled Litigating Reparations for African Americans. Provost Davis had served on the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America's (N'COBRA) Legal Strategies Commission and the Reparations Litigation Committee that I chaired, and thought this was an important topic for law students' education. It was well received by the law school, and in fact I taught it for several years after Provost Davis left the school to become a professor at University of North Carolina's School of Law. My work on reparations was a major reason for the invitation to serve as a visiting professor at University of California Santa Barbara, Center for Black Studies and Department of Black Studies. I have not met any resistance to my inclusion of reparations in my courses in remedies or critical race theory from faculty at any of the schools I taught.

The material I have used in the courses has varied given the specific focus of the course, for example, Litigating Reparations for African Americans as compared to Critical Race Theory or Remedies. The focus in the Litigating Reparations course was on whether and how reparations could be a viable claim. The emphasis in that course was on overcoming the legal obstacles to obtaining reparations and cases such as Cato v. the United States and the work of Boris Bitker on making a [section] 1983 claim were essential inclusions in the course. In the early 2000s, the Tulsa Greenwood Massacre litigation on which I served as co-counsel with several esteemed lawyers led by Charles Ogletree, Alexander v. Oklahoma, and scholarly articles on this case were added to the syllabus when talking about litigation strategies for the atrocities of slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow and the continuing legacies of slavery. …

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