By Senator Lena C. Taylor
In 2019, then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, said “I don’t think reparations for something that happened 150 years ago for whom none of us currently living are responsible is a good idea.” McConnell’s statements which were made during the annual Juneteenth observance in the country struck a lot of nerves.
After all, while there may not be anyone living today that was responsible for the institution of slavery, there are many alive who have benefited from the chattel bondage that is the very foundation that this country is built upon. The ugly legacy of slavery is a hard pill to swallow and an even more difficult thing to own up to. Just as The Daughters of the Confederacy tried to rewrite the racist history of the South by ensuring that the Lost Cause lessons were taught to nearly 70 million public school students between 1889 and 1969, today Republicans and their enablers are on a mission to shut down any conversations of systemic racism.
The Lost Cause was a false version of U.S. history that sought to diminish the role of slavery, portray white southerners as victims, and promote the confederacy. Those attempts at revisionist history persist today. However, we must all be alarmed at the more overt effort to completely suppress any honest review of the impact of racism. I am encouraged that while some are working to hide slavery, others are working to put a price tag on it.
Recently, the Detroit City Council passed a resolution that will likely place the question of reparations for slavery on their ballot this November. It’s not just local governments, but colleges and faith-based organizations that are making steps to financially right these wrongs. In February 2021, Virginia Theological Seminary began issuing cash payments to relatives of enslaved people who were forced to work at their seminary in Alexandria. They created a $1.7 million dollar reparations fund and have made initial payments of $2,100. Let me say it for you, child please!
In the last week, the Caribbean nation of Jamaica sent Great Britain a bill in the amount of $10.6 billion for reparations. A study of history will yield the fact that Africans were kidnapped and forced to work on British plantations. Roughly 600,000 Africans were impacted by the slave trade initially. Slavery was finally prohibited in 1807 and abolished legally in 1834. The sickening twist is that the formerly enslaved people were forced to compensate slave holders who lost their “property” aka slaves as a result. Yes, reparations were paid, but to the slave owners. The amount required was the equivalent of nearly $28 million dollars. The last of those payments were made in 2015. The enslaved people or their descendants were never paid a dime. It’s long past time to deal with this, nationally and internationally.
I join the many advocates, legislators, and supporters of reparations. The work of former U.S. Rep. John Conyers, to bring forth a commission to study reparations, has continued to be championed by U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee. The bodies of enslaved Black people were America’s greatest financial asset and carved the way for the United States to be an economic leader in the world. It’s time for America to pay what they owe.