Compensation Counts

An Activist Speaks on Reparations and the UN Conference Against Racism

Look at the economic situation, the gap in wealth between blacks and whites. Less wealth has been transmitted to blacks. For more than 350 years, my ancestors worked in the hardest of labor and received no remunerations for it. When they were, in quotes, freed, by the 13th Amendment, they brought nothing into this so-called free life but their own bodies.

The 40-acres-and-a-mule legislation did not pass. The efforts of ex-slaves arguing for a pension for freed Africans went by the wayside. So when you look at wealth in this year, you can't look at it from the perspective of what the black people have not been able to do today. In fact it is a credit to Africans and their descendants that despite the horrific conditions under which we were forced to live in slavery and after, we have come as far as we have.

How large is the reparations movement?It started as a movement that was very large back at the time of the ending of slavery. The leaders of the ex-slave pension effort counted upwards of 600,000 members. Marcus Garvey led a movement that included reparations, and there were thousands of people who joined that movement. At the founding of N'COBRA in 1987, there was a strong core of people—most of them identified as nationalist, but some of us, like myself, identified as being leftist. And there were some liberal and even conservative black folks. We have brought in organizations such as the NAACP, the National Bar Association, civil rights groups, almost all of the U.S. congressional black caucus. Now that the movement has been embraced by mainstream black America, it's growing by leaps and bounds. It now has become a critical mass.

What is the future of the reparations movement beyond Durban?We're working to develop lawsuits, some against the United States government, and we're looking at corporate defendants. This movement didn't start with the Durban conference, and it's not going to end with the Durban conference.

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