“If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong,” said Abraham Lincoln, way back in 1864. Almost 200 years later, African Americans continue the fight to have that wrong addressed. The message has disappeared from papers nationwide, kicked to the curb by the white media in favor of more traditional patriotic coverage for Americans mourning the tragedy of September 11, engrossed in the payback of the war against terrorism, and worried about the economic stability of this country.
Determined to keep the issue of reparations on the table, the high-profile civil rights attorneys of the Reparations Coordinating Committee plan to file a national class-action lawsuit against the U.S. government for its role in slavery and racial discrimination. The group includes Harvard University law professor Charles J. Ogletree, Johnny Cochran, and Alexander Pires Jr.
On the grassroots level, the cause was never abandoned, as evident in a statement issued by the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (N’COBRA) nine days after the terror hit: “Even through our tears and pain and great loss of this week, we cannot, and will not, abandon our struggle for Reparations. We Africans are, in fact, victims of the true first, and ongoing, World War.”
Or listen to the words of New York City Council member Charles Barron. “If anything, the events of 9-11 should fuel the discussion for reparations,” he says. “This is not the time to put them on the back burner.” In April, Barron handed Speaker Peter Vallone the “Queen Mother Moore” Reparations Resolution for Descendants of Enslaved Africans in New York City. Today Barron says he will do whatever it takes to pass this resolution, which calls for a commission to study the slave trade and its lasting effects—there’s no mention of money, just discussion.
The legacy of slavery lingers heavily in the community, says Sam Anderson of the Reparations Mobilization Coalition. Anderson cites the prison system, racial profiling, and lack of adequate housing, education, and health care as examples of why the fight for reparations must continue. Some 300 people attended a November conference the coalition put on in Harlem, at a time when the public was still afraid to fly. “Believe me,” says Anderson, the issue of “reparations is on the minds of black folks, and nothing can overshadow that.”
As New York begins to rebuild lower Manhattan, there is a sense that the needs of African Americans will once again be ignored no matter what their contribution. “We built the wall for Wall Street,” says Anderson. “What better place than New York to have the discussion of reparations, especially since this city was the slave trade center for over 100 years?”