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The Reparations Shakedown Goes Private By: Walter Williams
Townhall.com | Thursday, July 21, 2005


The slavery reparations shakedown lobby is gearing up for attacks on American industry. They've failed in the courts and Congress, so they're going after weak-kneed CEOs. At the NAACP's recent annual convention, Dennis C. Hayes, its interim president, said, "Absolutely, we will be pursuing reparations from companies that have historical ties to slavery and engaging all parties to come to the table." According to Mr. Hayes, "Many of the problems we have now including poverty, disparities in health care and incarceration can be directly tied to slavery."

 Part of the reparations lobby's agenda is to pressure cities to enact laws requiring companies that wish to do business with the city to complete studies to see whether they had ties to slavery. They've been successful in getting such legislation enacted in Philadelphia and Chicago. CEOs at J.P. Morgan Chase Bank and Wachovia Corp. have apologized for their predecessors' ties to slavery and agreed to be shaken down for several million dollars to fund scholarships and black history programs.

 Mr. Hayes' reparations vision strains credulity and is counter-productive to boot. Most black Americans are neither poor nor in prison. So if poverty and incarceration are directly tied to slavery, Mr. Hayes might explain how so many blacks somehow escaped this "legacy of slavery." For those blacks in poverty or incarcerated, what's Mr. Hayes' message to them? Is it to wait for CEOs to fork over some reparations change and apologize for slavery? If that's the message, then those blacks who are poor are going to remain so, and those who are lawless will continue to experience high incarceration rates.

 I think a better message for avoiding long-term poverty and high incarceration rates is: Graduate from high school. Get married before you have children and stay married. Work at any kind of job, even one that starts out paying the minimum wage. Finally, do not engage in criminal behavior.

 The recent phase of the reparations movement contains an interesting twist. Rev. Wayne Perryman, a conservative minister of Mount Calvary Christian Center Church of God in Christ in Seattle, Wash., has filed a lawsuit against the Democratic Party. His lawsuit, filed in United States District Court in Seattle, charges "that because of their racist past practices the Democratic Party should be required to pay African Americans Reparations." Rev. Perryman's brief, citing abundant historical evidence, charges that the past racist policies and practices that were initiated against blacks by the Democratic Party -- were no different than the policies and practices that were initiated by the Nazi Party against the Jews.

 Brian DeBose's Washington Times July 12th article "NAACP to Target Private Business," describing events at the NAACP convention, didn't report on whether the NAACP, and black politicians present, intend to support Rev. Perryman's legal actions against the Democratic Party. What are we to make of corporate CEOs, and their boards of directors, who cave in to the reparations shakedown? What are their motivations? One possibility is that they might fear that a principled stand, telling the reparations hustlers to take a hike, might cost them in terms of bad publicity and sales. The CEOs might guess their stockholders prefer dividends to principle. Another explanation, which makes less sense, is that the CEOs actually feel guilty about their predecessors' ties to slavery more than a century ago. For their guilt, I have a "Certificate of Amnesty and Pardon" at my website that might help them..

 There's a reparations agenda question that I would have liked to ask the mayors of Philadelphia and Chicago, who have laws that require companies, seeking to do business with the city, to do studies determining whether they had ties to slavery. Suppose it's the city's monopoly electric company that refuses to comply. Will the mayors tell them to keep their electricity and work in the dark?


Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University, Fairfax, Va., and a syndicated columnist.


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