USA Today | June 16, 2000
The fight for slavery reparations long has been waged by African-American organizations largely on the fringes of political activism. But now that fight has moved to the mainstream, as African-American officeholders in a number of states and municipalities take up the banner to compensate U.S. descendants o African slaves.
Last month, Chicago aldermen voted 46-1 for a resolution urging Congress to study the question of reparations. The measure passed after experts testified that African-Americans continue to suffer even though slavery ended after the Civil War. Detroit, Cleveland and Dallas also have approved measures encouraging federal hearings on the issue.
Proponents of reparations face a steep uphill battle. Only a quarter of those who responded to a Time magazine online survey in February, for example, said reparations should be paid for slavery. Given such tepid support, it could be a long time before we see any significant movement on this issue.
But U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., who since 1989 repeatedly has tried to get a commission created to study reparation proposals for African-Americans, says the issue is gaining interest, and justifiably so.
"Is this something we just erase from our memory because it happened a while back and there are no living former slaves at this point?" he asks. "Is there a statute of limitations on an injustice that is this huge?"
The commission Conyers envisions would include individuals "who have some experience with African-American history, the institution of slavery and the kind of effects that slavery has left in the present day."
I'll admit that I once believed seeking reparations was a waste of time. Because a substantial number of white Americans would have to support reparations in order for any congressional action to be taken, and there doesn't appear to be a lot of sympathy for African-American suffering among this group, I felt energy would be best placed elsewhere. But after hearing some of the arguments of reparations' supporters, I believe it at least deserves a public airing.
This week, the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America held its annual convention in Washington. Kalonji Olusegun, one of the coalition's founders, says one of the convention's goals was "to make sure any elected official or candidate who expects the black vote is supporting reparations."
Other groups successfully have lobbied for and received monetary compensation for infractions that pale in comparison to what African-Americans have been through -- Japanese-Americans, for example. Shouldn't our case at least get a fair hearing?