What Reparations for Slavery Might Look Like in 2019

The idea of economic amends for past injustices and persistent disparities is getting renewed attention. Here are some formulas for achieving the aim.

 

If you’re surprised that the issue of reparations for black Americans has taken so long to resolve, blame the president. President Andrew Johnson.

As the Civil War wound down in 1865, Gen. William T. Sherman made the promise that would come to be known as “40 acres and a mule” — redistributing a huge tract of Atlantic coastline to black Americans recently freed from bondage. President Abraham Lincoln and Congress gave their approval, and soon 40,000 freedmen in the South had started to plant and build.

Within months of Lincoln’s assassination, though, President Johnson rescinded the order and returned the land to its former owners. Congress made another attempt at compensation, but Johnson vetoed it.

Now, in the early phase of the 2020 presidential campaign, the question of compensating black Americans for suffering under slavery and other forms of racial injustice has resurfaced. The current effort focuses on a congressional bill that would commission a study on reparations, a version of legislation first introduced in 1989. Several Democratic presidential hopefuls have declared their support, including Senators Kamala Harris of California, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Cory Booker of New Jersey and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro.

If this latest revival has excited supporters, it has worried some party moderates who fear that such an effort would alienate many voters. Polls have shown a big deficit in popular support. While a majority of black Americans in a 2016 Marist poll supported reparations, whites rejected it by an overwhelming margin.

SLaThe reparations issue raises profound moral, social and political considerations. Still, the economic nuts and bolts of such a program have gotten scant public attention: Who would be paid? How much? Where would the money come from?

Through the decades, a handful of scholars have taken a shot at creating a road map. Here’s what has to be reckoned with.

When James Forman, a civil rights pioneer who later served briefly as the Black Panther Party’s foreign minister, demanded $500 million in reparations in his 1969 Black Manifesto, he grounded his argument in an indisputable fact: Unpaid slave labor helped build the American economy, creating vast wealth that African-Americans were barred from sharing.

The manifesto called for white Christian churches and Jewish synagogues to pay for projects like a black university and a Southern land bank. “We have helped to build the most industrial country in the world,” it declared, at the same time that “racist white America has exploited our resources, our minds, our bodies, our labor.”

Another civil rights leader, Bayard Rustin, responded, “If my great-grandfather picked cotton for 50 years, then he may deserve some money, but he’s dead and gone and nobody owes me anything.”

The question of reparations, however, extends far beyond the roughly four million people who were enslaved when the Civil War started, as Ta-Nehisi Coates explained in an influential essay published in The Atlantic in 2014. Legalized discrimination and state-sanctioned brutality, murder, dispossession and disenfranchisement continued long after the war ended. That history profoundly handicapped black Americans’ ability to create and accumulate wealth as well as to gain access to jobs, housing, education and health care.

For every dollar a typical white household holds, a black one has 10 cents. It is this cumulative effect that justifies the payment of reparations to descendants of slaves long dead, supporters say.

“Equality is not likely to be obtained without some form of reparations,” David H. Swinton, an economist and former president of Benedict College, wrote in the 1990 collection “The Wealth of Races.”

 

Originally Posted by the NY Times

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Scotland’s Glasgow University received millions from slavery, now it plans to pay reparations

In a rare move by an institution of education, Scotland’s Glasgow University has admitted to receiving millions of dollars from slavery in Africa and the Caribbean.   It is now putting in place structures to pay reparations in a move that has been lauded as great across the world.

This information was made available in a report called Slavery, Abolition and the University of Glasgow, which was prepared by the History of Slavery Steering Committee put together to determine the university’s connection to people who benefited directly from slavery.

According to the report, although many of the staff in the University were against slavery and that the University neither had any enslaved person nor did it trade in goods produced by enslaved people, funds from people who had benefitted from proceeds of slavery were given to the university in the form of gifts and bequests and used in supporting academic activity by the students.

The University of Glasgow acknowledges that during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries it received some gifts and bequests from persons who may have benefitted from the proceeds of slavery. Income from such gifts and bequests has been used in supporting academic activity undertaken by the students and staff of the University

The report further listed some of the people who graduated from the university and went ahead to become slave-owners in the Caribbean. One of the adversely mentioned people is Robert Cunninghame Graham who graduated from the University and had become a rector in the 1780s.

Robert Cunningham Graham of Gartmore (1730-1798), Doughty Photo: Wiki CC

Graham owned and ran a plantation in Jamaica, where enslaved people worked extreme hours and at terrible conditions. He was also known to have sired many children with enslaved women, enslaving and even selling these children to be enslaved in other plantations.

“It is possible that there were some of the people that Graham sold were his own children… It is possible that Ardoch may have been one of Graham’s children, for the young enslaved man was named for a Scottish estate in Graham’s family, an estate which Graham later inherited. It seems likely that only Graham could have been the source for this unusual name for an enslaved child,” the report says.

Upon his return to Scotland, Graham was made the rector at the University until 1787.  As per the report:

A year after stepping down from the Rectorship Graham made a gift of £100 to the University of Glasgow to establish the Gartmore Gold Medal, to be awarded every two years for the best student work on ‘Political liberty’. By the time that Graham served as Rector and endowed a prize for the best student work on liberty he had been a slave-owner for nearly forty years, owning many people like Ardoch, Beniba and Martin, and he had made his fortune from their labour and from his trading and selling of the sugar they and other enslaved people produced.

Graham’s gift is among the 16 bursaries, endowments and mortifications donated between 1809 and 1937 that have a direct link to the profits from slavery, 11 of which generated subsequent income for the university until today. Some of these endowments were recived from former slave owners who had received compensation for losing slaved when slavery was abolished.

It is against this background that the University has laid out a series of activities as part of the reparative justice programme. It is also planning to  increase the “racial diversity of students and staff and to reduce the degree
attainment gap” as well as to create an “interdisciplinary centre for the study of historical slavery and its
legacies, including modern slavery and trafficking”.

Also part of the recommendation is the collaboration between the University and the University of West Indies (UWI).

The move has been welcomed by UWI vice-chancellor and chairman of the CARICOM Reparations Commission, Professor Hilary Beckles.

Photo: Caribbean Life

“I have looked closely at the report, reading it within the context of the University of Glasgow-University of the West Indies framework for mutual recognition and respect. The approach adopted by the University of Glasgow is commendable and is endorsed by the UWI as an excellent place to begin. Both universities are committed to excellent and ethical research, teaching and public service. I celebrate colleagues in Glasgow for taking these first steps and keenly anticipate working through next steps,” Beckles, one of the three external advisors to the report, said.

Sir Geoff Palmer, Scotland’s first black professor, not only welcomed the report but also called on institutions that had benefited from the slave trade to make amends.

Photo: What’s On Glasgow

“Now, I think the country faces a very uncomfortable question which the Glasgow University report has raised once more: to what extent did slavery make Scotland great? We can have all the equality laws and anti-racism legislation we like, but if no other institutions, firms or organisations which also benefited from slavery declare this and seek to make amends then it’s all meaningless,” he said to the Guardian.

The conversation about reparations for slavery has been ongoing for years. In 2016, Jamaica demanded Britain to start making reparations for slavery, stating that it is the duty of the previous colonial master to alleviate the continued suffering of the Caribbean people.

A regional body known as the Caribbean Reparation Commission was set up to establish the case for reparations by the governments of all the former colonial powers. It set up a ten-step plan for the same.

An American researcher, Thomas Craemer of the University of Connecticut calculated how much reparations could cost and he ended up with an estimate of between $5.9 trillion and $14.2 trillion in 2015. And this is just in the United States of America alone.

For Africa, reparations were at  $777 trillion in 1999 as per the recommendations of the African World Reparations and Repatriation Truth Commission.

While the move by Glasgow University is in the right direction, it is just a drop in the ocean as far as reparations for slavery is concerned.

 

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