Magazine article The New Crisis

Activists Take Reparations Demand to National Mall

Magazine article The New Crisis

Activists Take Reparations Demand to National Mall

Article excerpt



As far back as the 1960s, Detroit activist Ray Jenkins has been calling for reparations from the U.S. government to compensate African Americans for centuries of slavery. Over the years, he has been ridiculed by many and earned the name "Reparations Ray."

Meanwhile, the U.S. has paid reparations to Japanese Americans interned during World War II, Native Americans whose land was stolen and inmates injured in the 1971 Attica prison uprising.

Today, Jenkins says, nearly four decades after he started raising the issue, African American leaders are seriously discussing reparations.

During the Millions for Reparations rally Aug. 17, Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) called Jenkins to the stage, honoring the activist for keeping the cause alive.

"People used to laugh at me until the Japanese Americans got paid $1.2 billion - then they stopped laughing," Jenkins said.

The idea for the rally came from the Durban 400, a coalition of African American activists who traveled to Durban, South Africa, last year for the UN's World Conference Against Racism. The group, led by the National Black United Front (NBUF) of Chicago and the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based December 12th Movement, successfully lobbied delegates to support a statement that condemned modern slavery as a "crime against humanity" and expressed regret for past slavery. The National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (N'COBRA) and the New Black Panther Party were also among the grass-roots organizations that supported the march.

The turnout was modest compared with the endless crowds that descended on the National Mall for the Million Man and Million Family marches. Rally organizers say more than 50,000 people from 66 cities gathered near the U.S. Capitol; the National Park Service declined to release a crowd estimate.

Every year since 1989, Conyers has introduced legislation that would establish a federal commission to determine the effects of slavery. His bill continues to languish, but Conyers said there is a groundswell of support.

"There is momentum building up all over," Conyers said. "There are Republican lawmakers talking about reparations. There are even White people talking about reparations."

A 1995 Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that more than 50 percent of Whites questioned disagreed with reparations being paid out to victims of slavery, while the majority of the African Americans supported the idea. …

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