The New Politics of the Reparations Movement
By David L. Horne, Ph.D OUR WEEKLY NEWSPAPER, March, 2019
On Saturday, March 16th, at Los Angeles Southwest College, a group of students and a few community members met to have a debate conversation about reparations for African Americans. This is part of a revved up reification of the national and international reparations movement. Five youths were awarded prizes out of the ten debate contestants and there was a very robust roundhouse discussion of the topic. Hooray for stirring up youth involvement, just as several presidential candidates are weighing in on the subject.
As the national conversation heats up—particularly over the issue of whose definition of reparations will be used—it is wise to re-look at two fundamentals that are so far being virtually ignored. First is the fact that former U.S. Congressman John Conyers, of Detroit (recently replaced by Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib) introduced and re-introduced H.R. 40 as a legislative act from 1989 until his last year in office, 2017.
H.R. 40, modeled after the Japanese American Civil Liberties Act (reparations for interning Japanese American citizens and seizing their property during WWII), was (is) essentially an attempt to get Congress to authorize a complete study of the impact of slavery, Jim Crowism and massive redundant discrimination regarding African Americans, and to recommend solutions. From 1989 until 2016, the bill was essentially entitled, the “Commission to Study and Develop Reparations Proposals for African Americans Act.” In 2016-2017, the bill changed focus from essentially a study bill to one that emphasized a request to establish a congressional reparations plan for the African American population, as a result of an official commission study and recommendations. For the recently begun 116th session of Congress, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) took the baton passed by former legislator Conyers, and re-introduced H.R. 40, with a twist. Her bill is entitled a Commission to Consider Reparations Proposals for African Americans and is aimed directly at coming up with reparations plans straightaway.
In interviews with presidential hopefuls, there should be questions about whether they support H.R. 40 and are willing to push its passage.
The other very important thing is the U.S. Senate’s 2009 Concurrent Resolution 26, Apology for Enslavement and Racial Segregation of African Americans Act. This was the first, official governmental apology for the enslavement, racial discrimination and Jim Crowization of African Americans in U.S. history. Unfortunately, as thorough-sounding as it was, it was not popularly well-received. The primary reason for that is the caveat placed in its conclusion that,”….nothing in this resolution authorizes, supports or serves as part of a settlement of any claims.” That statement was a deal breaker for many, many reparations activists.
This issue can also be brought up again and presidential hopefuls can be asked whether they support this resolution already passed by Congress, and whether they will support removing that caustic caveat from it. Let’s have a real discussion of reparations, not a superficial one. Let’s follow the example of the young reparations debaters from last weekend. Remember how significant Denzel Washington’s “Great Debaters” was? We have a precedent!!
The Politics of Garnering Black Political Support for POTUS Contenders
By David L. Horne, Ph.D OUR WEEKLY NEWSPAPER, May, 2019
Announcement to all current presidential contenders who seek political support from the national African American community. No, we are not monolithic—we do not all think alike, dance alike, look alike, or look for the same things in our political leadership. But two things are very consistent. One, you will be ignored, dismissed or otherwise maligned if you take Black voters for granted or “presume” you know them because you have a few Black friends with whom you hang out. Second, there are tangible benefits expected from contenders Black voters support. A lot of pretty words won’t seal the deal, and having photo ops at a few Black churches won’t fool many people.
Here are the two political items serious POTUS contenders should be willing to pledge themselves to do, or it will not generally go well in terms of acquiring and keeping massive Black community support. First, you must promise to advocate, support and sign the newest version of H.R. 40. That legislation, pioneered by former congressman John Conyers from Detroit, and more recently advocated by Texas congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, presently calls for not just a study of the past and current negative conditions of Black folk in the U.S.A. as a result of slavery, Jim Crowism, systematic racism, etc. The newest version calls for the creation of a 13-member Reparations Commission to propose specific reparations solutions. That Commission is to be appointed by the POTUS, the Speaker of the House, the Senate Pro Tem, and a combination of Black civil rights groups in the U.S.
Based on the extrapolated results of a recent survey of over 13,500 African Americans, over 85% of the African American population believes that some form of reparations is owed to Black folk in this country. Second, the right to vote ( along with the right to get a solid, quality, public school education) is seen as fundamental to making Black lives better in this country and in the world. The Supreme Court’s recent evisceration of the 1965 Voting Rights Act has a legislative answer. It is called H.R. 4, previously sponsored and advocated by civil rights veteran, John Lewis, and currently promoted by Alabama representative Terri Sewell. The repair of federal voting rights legislation is also in the omnibus Democratic House bill, H.R. 1. Again, any serious contenders for the African American vote in 2020 must be quite public and vocal in their support for H.R. 4, if not for all of H.R. 1. You must pledge to advocate the legislation and promise to sign the bill into law as soon as it comes to your desk, once elected.
There can be no equivocation—public or private—or hesitation in these two positions taken. There will be no groundswell of Black American support for your candidacy without your strong, consistent support of both positions. Candidates not heeding this advice taken from the Black Agenda, will have no one to blame but themselves as they either never get, or they lose once acquired, large-scale Black support for their candidacy. In national politics now for the Black community—If it ain’t tangible, what good is it? We’ve heard all the sizzle; now where’s the real bar-be-que? With sauce?
A “Woke” Analysis: U.S. Movement for Reparations in the Age of Trump
by David L. Horne, Ph.D
To begin where this analysis will end, both current presidential candidates and activists who want to see some tangible result of their reparations movement work, should pledge to advocate and achieve the passage and implementation of Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee’s 116th Congress version of H.R. 40, pioneered and long championed by former Michigan congressman John Conyers, and the newly fashioned Senate companion bill put forth by New Jersey Senator and presidential contender, Cory Booker. Additionally, any serious candidate should also pledge to support the final version of Alabama Congresswoman Terri Sewell’s H.R. 4—Restoring the Voting Rights Act– and the John Sarbanes-sponsored H.R. 1, the For the People bill, which expands democracy for most U.S. citizens.** The reparations issue and protecting voting rights are two of the most fundamental needs/wants within the greater African American community.
The initial version of H.R. 40—consistently advocated from 1989 through 2017—requested federal government support of a national study of the impact of Black American enslavement, institutional racism, Jim Crowism, etc. Congresswoman Lee’s version, adopted from Mr. Conyers’ last iteration, promotes the creation of a National Reparations Commission to propose definitive solutions to the negative consequences of Black enslavement and systematic patterns of U.S. racism, plus the federal government’s commitment to follow through on those proposed solutions. That is a tangible, pragmatic reparations movement outcome.
However, there are two major problems that arise from that approach. First, H.R. 40 directs that the Reparations Commission will consist of 13 members, three chosen by the POTUS, three chosen by the H.R. Speaker, one chosen by the U.S. Senate Pro Tem and six chosen by the N.A.A.C.P and other civic activist groups. The fact is there is no collective agreement among the various reparations groups active nationally on what winning reparations is and no centralized reparations strategy group in the U.S.A., similar to Dr. King’s SCLC, although the National Reparations Commission out of Dr. Ron Daniels’ Institute of the Black World has the potential to rise to that level. Except for the 6- year survey conducted by the Reparations United Front out of California, there is no publicly known document that actively tries to assess what African Americans in general want to see as a reparations result. Uncorrected, this means, among other things, that H.R. 40’s Reparations Commission, at best, will be putting forth mainly personalized solutions rather than those of the community at large. That’s a debilitating crap shoot, as was amply demonstrated during 2003-2010, when the Farmer-Paellmann lawsuits were in vogue, and the Ndaba conferences rganized by Dr. Conrad Worrill of NBUF (National Black United Front) in association with the NOI (Nation of Islam) were regularly occurring.
By the way, the Reparations Survey by the RUF concluded that out of 13, 550 respondents, 85% said they believed that some form of reparations was owed to African Americans by the U.S. government and/or U.S. corporations which profited from ante-bellum slavery in this country. They also believed that it is fair and proper to pursue reparations. Additionally, 84% of African Americans surveyed believe the achievement of reparations will provide more respect for being black in America, and 80% of African Americans surveyed believe that current white Americans, even though they didn’t own slaves, continue to be unjustly enriched from the unpaid labor of 18th and 19th century slaves. Moreover, 85% of African Americans surveyed believe that the achievement of reparations will help heal the racial divide in this country, while 75% also believe that achieving reparations may also make things worse for African Americans initially. 79% of African Americans surveyed believe the U.S. government should pay some form of reparations, and 85% believe some American corporations should be sued for reparations. Finally, 74% of African Americans surveyed believe that receiving money alone is not enough as a reparations solution, and that a reparations package should be negotiated. Additionally, there were 75 reparations solutions repeatedly mentioned by 73% of those surveyed, and 50 more solutions mentioned by at least 53% of those surveyed, including, for example, the establishment of an educational fund that guarantees that every African American student desiring to get a college education would receive free tuition, housing and book grants through graduate school completion.
Though the Reparations Movement in this country has much historical inequity it can rightfully identify, and plenty of examples of moral turpitude which harmed African Americans, what it does not have are any significant legal victories along the way on which it can build. Many legal cases have been brought to court (over 100 since 1900), but lack of standing and/or statute of limitations, and sovereign immunity decisions have regularly ended the lawsuits. The last substantial case was of course the Tulsa, Oklahoma case (Alexander v. State of Oklahoma) based on the 1921 destruction of a Black township (Greenwood, Oklahoma section of Tulsa) by the white population infuriated by another false rumor of a young Black man raping a white woman, the razing of numerous Black businesses, the seizure of property and assets owned by Black citizens, and the murder of Black residents. This case—considered by many as the Brown v. Board of Education equivalent case for the Reparations Movement—and marshalled by the Reparations Coordinating Committee, which included the cream of the crop of activist Black attorneys then (Charles Ogletree, Johnnie Cochran, Adjoa Aiyetoro, Randall Robinson, etc.) was eventually shot down by a Supreme Court refusal of certiorari in 2005, and the Reparations Movement in the U.S. has been legally moribund since then.
Additionally, who exactly would benefit from a reparations victory anyway has not been determined or even deeply explored. There are millions of U.S. citizens who are people of color, but who came to the U.S. voluntarily. Are Afro-Caribbean Americans eligible? Are voluntary migrants from Africa eligible? What about the descendants of Native American—African American couplings, or the descendants of free Blacks never enslaved in this country, a few of whom owned Black slaves themselves? Will slave descendants have to establish a Registry of Slave Descent, as did the Cherokee to handle distribution of its settlement cases? This is not a negligible issue.
The fundamental question is, are we really ready to win reparations? Right now, the issue is engaged at a high level in this country, and it appears that that will only intensify. There can be, and probably will be, many discussions about this issue which is about us, but without us, since we do not yet have a unified front.
We must correct this deficit as soon as possible. We are hereby calling on NCOBRA, the RNC, the CBC, or any other legitimate reparations entity to immediately call for a national summit in order to achieve the clarity necessary for us to gain a reparations victory this time in the name of our
** To really distinguish oneself, a presidential contender should advocate and promise to sign the restoration of the Tulsa-Greenwood Race Riot Claims Accountability Act, last put forward by former Congressman John Conyers in 2013. That legislation was intended to overcome a statute of limitations-based court ruling that denied justice to the survivors of the 1921 Tulsa-Greenwood (Black Wall Street) race riot that has been dubbed the most brutal racial riot and act of domestic terrorism in U.S. history. In summary, that attack by white mobs and the Oklahoma National Guard bombed, burned and destroyed virtually every home and business owned by Black citizens in the Greenwood section of Tulsa, Oklahoma making over 1,200 people homeless overnight, and killing at least 300 individuals, including women and children. Greenwood had been the most successful Black township in U.S. history.