The anniversary of the New Orleans Massacre of 1866 is coming up later this month, on July 30th. We should not forget this event, essentially a race riot, in which 238 people were killed, the vast majority of whom were Black war veterans who had fought for the Union — but the war had ended a year earlier.
The massacre was a crucial factor which led to the passage of the Reconstruction Acts. For a brief moment, a century and a half ago, it seemed as if our nation was poised to begin the long and difficult process of healing from the wounds which slavery inflicted on the body politic. Instead, that process was sabotaged and repressed in relatively short order. Call it the Deconstruction of Reconstruction.
Is there a city in the United States where we know this better? The legacy of slavery looms large here, though official acknowledgements of this history are scanty. The Crescent City was also home to one of the largest populations of free people of color. It stands to reason that people in New Orleans should be at the forefront of the newly re-invigorated movement toward making reparations for slavery.
And so we are.
On July 9th, there was a meeting on the prospect of a local platform for such reparations. It was sponsored by the Green Party of New Orleans. (Note: I serve as chair of this group.) All our meetings at the Mid-City Library are free and open to the public.
Local artist, activist and entrepreneur Anika Ofori drew on her experience working with the Green Party of the United States to give an informal presentation which informed and framed our discussion.
Anika began with a brief historical overview, outlining the establishment of the Freedmen’s Bureau and the Reconstruction Acts, as well as the sabotage of Reconstruction through acts of violence.
Current efforts on to establish reparations for slavery stem from the middle of the 20th century, picking up momentum in the 1990s, slowed temporarily by the political shifts after the terrorist attacks of 2001.
Anika recounted the work of the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (N’COBRA) and National African American Reparations Commission (NAARC) including their preliminary 10-Point Plan which is modeled after a similar plan endorsed by the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). It’s a holistic program that would finally set our nation on the road to healing. A wealth of detailed information can be found via the Reparations Resources Center, maintained by the Institute of the Black World 21st Century, at https://ibw21.org/reparations-resource-center/
House Resolution 40, officially titled the “Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act,” was introduced to Congress in January of 2017 by John Conyers, Jr. He introduced the bill repeatedly over almost three decades. Since he resigned in December, the future of the bill is unclear.
Nevertheless, the Green Party of the United States has endorsed the idea of reparations, both in general principle as part of the Green Party platform, as well as more specifically endorsing H.R. 40.
We concluded our meeting with a discussion of how we might promote the reparations issue locally, here in New Orleans, which after all was once the preeminent hub of the slave trade on this continent.
Our conversation brought to light a series of questions. For example: How do we incorporate support for reparations in our local platform, currently under development? We anticipate some points from the NAARC ten-point plan will be included in other parts of our platform. Do we highlight these connections or address reparations separately? How do we advocate for reparations to a greater public that might not be educated on the issue and resistant to it? Are there particular policies and demands in the call for reparations that our chapter is in the best position to pursue locally?
The discussion of reparations also raised questions about the priorities and identity of the Green Party. Despite the official support for reparations in the Green Party platform, there were concerns that the Green Party as a whole isn’t racially inclusive and sufficiently aware of race issues. There were also concerns that prioritizing reparations and racial justice might alienate members of the party who are most interested in economic and/or climate matters. Others at the meeting suggested that the pursuit of economic, racial, and climate justice were not mutually exclusive and had to be pursued simultaneously because they are all related and interconnected.
Thanks to Neil Ranu, Green Party of New Orleans secretary, for preparing notes on the meeting, which were used extensively for this article.