A REPARATIONS HISTORICAL OVERVIEW

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Conrad Worrill

It is important that we have a historical perspective that fuels the current mass phase of the Reparations Movement at this hour in history.

The issue of reparations for African people throughout the world has become a widely discussed topic and manifests itself in a variety of action plans and strategies. In my travels around the country, I’ve found that the issue of reparations has penetrated the spirit and interest of African people in America in all walks of life. For those of us who have been organizing and advocating reparations for African people in America, specifically, and for African people throughout the world since the 1960s, the question becomes what does this current phase of the Reparations Movement mean for the redemption and salvation of African people?

When we talk about reparations we are talking about repairing the damages inflicted by member groups of the white race and the government of the United States in order to enjoy full freedom. When we discuss reparations for African people in the United States we are talking about “slave labor, humanity, culture, legacies, names, languages that were taken outside of the law and natural process by forceful demand of white captive slave owners.”

The present day Reparations Movement for African people in America is connected to the leadership of Sister Callie House who founded The National Ex-Slave Mutual Relief Bounty and Pension Association in the 1890s. According to historian Mary Frances Berry, Sister House organized a Black Mass Movement demanding reparations from the 1890s to 1915. Berry writes, “working through meetings, literature, and traveling agents, the organization successfully developed membership across the South as well as… Oklahoma, Kansas, Indiana, Ohio, and New York.”

In addition, “The Association’s 25 cents annual membership fee and the ten-cent monthly dues, along with $2.50 charged local affiliates for a Charter, augmented by an occasional extraordinary levy of five-cents to defray special expenses, provided the funds for this mass-based movement’s work. The objective was to organize a demand throughout the Black nation which would force the United States to provide the needed and well deserved pensions they sought for the aging persons formerly held in slavery, their surviving spouses, care­givers, and heirs.”

In Eight Women Leaders of the Reparation Movement U.S.A., Linda Allen Eustace and Imari Obadele state, “The movement’s successful organizing, coupled with the ubiquitous white supremacist values of whites generally and especially United States officials, which disposed them in those days, as today, to attempt to defeat any significant self-help efforts among Black people resulted in a ten year postal investigation.” Eustace and Obadele point out that, “After finding no evidence of federal violations, U.S. officials indicted Ms. House and a number of other members in Nashville for fraud, for using the mail to distribute one of the Association’s carefully drawn leaflets. She was found guilty and sentenced to a year and a day in the federal prison at Jefferson City.”

Although this phase of the Reparations Movement was not successful, the spirit and organizing work carried on through the Garvey Movement, and continued with Robert Brock from California laboring in the Reparations Movement for over 40 years.

Queen Mother Moore championed reparations for over 60 years. She is considered the High Priestess of the Reparations Movement and formed the Reparations Committee of Descendants of United States Slaves, Inc., along with Dara Abubakari. In 1962, they delivered a petition to the United Nations demanding the United States be made to pay reparations.

Contributions to the Reparations Movement resurfaced through the leadership of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X in the 1960s, making the demand for reparations through Muhammad Speaks, the print voice of the Nation of lslam. The Republic of New Africa made a reparations demand in 1968, demanding payment of $400 billion in damages for slavery.

The National Coalition Of Blacks for Reparations in America (N’COBRA) was organized in 1988 following in the tradition of Callie House. Since 1988, N’COBRA has developed a number of strategies designed to gain reparations for African people in America and to help advance international efforts to win reparations. Beginning in 1989, Congressman John Conyers introduced legislation in each Congress calling for the U. S. government to study the impact of slavery on Africans in America and the United States. This legislation is currently receiving wide support, primarily due to the work of N’ COBRA.

Since the late 1980s, several organizations including the December 12th Movement, the Uhuru Movement, The Lost and Found Nation of lslam, the Republic of New Africa (RNA), and the National Black United Front (NBUF) continue to organize around the demand for reparations. The Tulsa Race Riot Commission, under the leadership of Representative Donn Ross has generated more interest in the movement. Since the late 1990s, Attorney Deadria Farmer-Paellmann’s research on the insurance companies that held policies on enslaved Blacks in the 1850s has added to the reparations discussion over the last two years and has led to a Corporate Reparations Lawsuit. Finally, the resolution on reparations sponsored by Alderman Dorothy Tillman in Chicago’s City Council received wide publicity and also generated a great deal of interest among Black people in the United States regarding the demand for reparations. This visibility was further assisted by the publication of The Debt by Randall Robinson and most recently, Should America Pay?, edited by Dr. Raymond Winbush.

The work of the December 12th Movement and the National Black United Front in organizing the Durban 400 to participate in the United Nations World Conference Against Racism in August of 2001 was significant in helping to raise the issue of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade being a Crime Against Humanity and Reparations were owed to African people.

Finally, the Durban 400 called for the Millions for Reparations Rally held August 17, 2002 in Washington, D.C. where more than fifty-thousand African people were in attendance, was another indicator of the growing mass character of the Reparations Movement.

The Reparations Movement has moved from the realm of ideas pushed by a handful of intellectuals and activists to the masses of Black people. This is an indication that African people have not lost memory of the historical atrocities inflicted upon them and that they will never forget or dismiss the continuation of this mistreatment by this country.

Dr. Conrad Worrill, Professor Emeritus, Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies (CCICS). New office location is at 1809 E. 71st Street, Chicago, Illinois 60649, 773-592-2598. Email: c-worrill@neiu.edu Website: www.drconradworrill.com.

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