The ADOS (American Descendants of Slavery) Reparationist Quick Guide Response is designed to be a civic engagement resource for anyone and allows supporters to take ownership of our social justice advocacy. Authorship is being encouraged from every sector and community of citizens concerned with the restorative justice of ADOS and the closing of the black-white racial wealth gap. The book From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twentieth Century (Darity & Mullen, 2020) will serve as our base source for the invited authors of the volumes. Each issue will contain five topical quick points from four featured authors offering their responses to commonly held opposition to reparations and/or frequently asked questions (FAQ) about a reparations program.
The inherited disadvantages of slavery and the inability to transfer wealth to ADOS descendants have been a major contributor to the bottom caste positionality of this ethnic group. This volume series is intended to encourage study and dialogue. It is an instrument for personal empowerment by creating a means for active participation of Reparationist and national coalition-building which includes petitioning for significant revision (or replacement) of the House of Representatives bill, H.R. 40, currently before the U.S. Congress.
Education and Civic Engagement – Lisa Brown
1. “Why can’t the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) give ADOS reparations?”
The Supreme Court (SCOTUS) is the judicial and third branch of our nation’s government; the other two are the Executive Branch (President) and the Legislative Branch (Congress, made up of the Senate and House of Representatives). The SCOTUS is tasked with interpreting the law made by Congress per the United States Constitution.
In the 19th century, the SCOTUS adopted a pro-slavery stance, as reflected in the 1857 Dred Scott decision. A black family was living with a U.S. Army surgeon who had enslaved them in Illinois before moving to a territory where slavery was illegal (what is present-day Minnesota). The SCOTUS’s ruling against the Scotts’ pursuit of freedom upheld the Fugitive Slave Act passed by the U.S. Congress in 1850. The Act meant that runaway slaves escaping to slave-free states were in violation of the law and must be returned to their owner(s (FHTE, paragraph 2, pp. 90 – 92). Additionally, rights extended to Freedmen—such as voting rights— only were granted via Constitutional Amendment during Reconstruction and not by a SCOTUS proclamation.
Coupled with the Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) that upheld legal segregation in the United States, a decision whose reversal did not begin until the Brown v. Board (1954) decision, the SCOTUS has not been a bastion of support for black rights. As the Brown decision itself demonstrates, the Supreme Court does not have the capacity to enforce or finance its policy mandates.
Therefore, even in the unlikely event that the SCOTUS declared African American reparations valid, the Court would have no ability to make it happen. It must be the legislative branch of our Government (i.e., Congress) that could offer and pay for any sustainable framework of a national reparations program for ADOS citizens, not the Supreme Court of the United States.
2. “Why should ADOS consider the year 1776 as the start date for a Reparations claim?”
At the time of the Declaration of Independence from Britain in 1776, nearly 25% of the inhabitants of the 13 colonies were black (about one-half million people). In 1790, the first post-Revolutionary War Census recorded that 90% of North American blacks were enslaved, and only 8% were free. The Continental Congress charted the establishment of the new sovereign nation on June 11, 1776. Five men were appointed to draft the declaration. Although black patriots fought in the Continental army on behalf of the 13 colonies to win victory and freedom from English rule, emancipation was not given to the black enslaved population. In fact, after the war victory, promises of freedom to slaves who fought in the Continental Army were rescinded by whites.
Of the five men selected to pen the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson was its chief writer. The Declaration, by ushering the United States into existence as a Slave, allowed even the most impoverished whites to hold dominance over blacks. Jefferson’s views on the humanity of enslaved Africans and their descendants as being on par with whites were untenable. This claim’s evidence reflects Jefferson’s aristocratic upbringing, where he inherited and maintained slaves (FHTE, paragraph 3, pp. 69 – 70; 75- 76). Moreover, Thomas Jefferson fathered children by a woman, Sally Hemings, enslaved by him and she bore him sons and daughters who were not free-born human beings but Jefferson’s enslaved chattel.
3. “How can reparations for ADOS improve our civic engagement as adults or remove barriers to higher education?”
Granting reparations to ADOS would validate black Americans’ full rights as citizens and inspire their civic participation in preserving the only Nation their families have known for centuries, dissimilar to AAFL (African Ancestry Foreign Lineage) Americans. As a matter of justice, reparations would affirm for the native black population that our Government was complicit in the atrocities visited upon ADOS, including the denial of equal benefits to whites, for this ethnic group from the Nation’s founding to the present day. Reparations open the door locked against Thomas Jefferson’s proclamation, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” a proclamation unjustly refused to ADOS and their families in America.
Post-secondary education at the college and university level provides adults with an expanded knowledge base about American history and how our democratic republic operates. The rising cost of higher education has stymied ADOS’s participation in this valuable franchise that can lead to a more robust electorate and civically engaged citizenry. Closing the black-white wealth gap via direct-payments to those who this author describes as black ethnics possessing decades of Ancestral Black American Lineage (ABAL) in this country is just. Reparations empower ADOS to become better stewards of their educational, economic, and civic futures in America. Moreover, elite colleges and universities profiteered from slavery, further strengthening the case that a debt is owed (FHTE, paragraph 3, p. 389).
4. “Did the post-civil war 3/5th compromise mean that former slaves and their ADOS children were three-fifths of a human being?”
The three-fifths compromise meme is often used to gaslight native black Americans. It is a simpleton’s insult to charge that the worth of an ADOS life was
only 3/5ths the value of a white life. First, the slight is ahistorical because the three-fifths compromise was adopted in the new Nation’s Constitution—before the
Civil War—following the American Revolutionary War with Great Britain. Nevertheless, the compromise was a far more complex and egregious decision than a simple snub towards blacks. It helped cement slavery into the new republic’s ethos (FHTE, paragraph 6, pp. 80 – 81). Adopting the new nation’s Constitution in 1787 included a three-fifths counting metric for the numbering of enslaved populations held mostly in the South for purposes of Congressional representation and taxation.
Specifically, the arrangement was applicable to states where direct taxes were assessed by population size. Initially, taxes were calculated based on the white landowner’s property value without accounting for their human property (i.e., slaves). However, Southern lawmakers negotiated a compromise in the Constitution to increase their tax burden in exchange for slaves only being counted as 3/5ths of the individual enumerated state inhabitant. This political move made for a greater tax burden among owners of human property in the slaveholding states, but also granted them greater surrogates in Congressional and Electoral College representation. Hence, acceptance of the Southern planters’ legal maneuver allowed them to elect representatives who would vote to uphold slavery thereby locking in the institution as an economic engine for the South. The formerly enslaved were not given the franchise until after the Civil War via the Reconstruction Era passage of the 15th Amendment in 1870. It was not until the 1965 Voting Rights Act that all legal barriers were removed, such that their descendants had, in principle, the right to vote.
5. “Is it true that the first blacks elected to the House of Representatives and the Senate were Republican Reparationists, and how did President Lincoln’s successor Andrew Johnson (a Democrat) undermine their politics?”
During a period of great abolitionist activism, the two main political parties were the Democrats, primarily southerners, and the Whigs, mostly northerners. The Democrats split into Northern and Southern factions. A newly constituted anti-slavery Republican Party replaced the Whigs party and selected Abraham Lincoln as its presidential candidate (FHTE, paragraph 6, p. 147).
After the war, the Reconstruction era witnessed the first black Senators elected to serve in the upper house of Congress. They were Senator Hiram Revels in 1870-71, and Senator Balance K. Bruce (1875-1881), the latter born a slave in Prince Edwards County, Virginia. Both men were Republicans representing the state of Mississippi (FHTE, paragraph 3, p. 227). Revels served during the Reconstruction Era and was a minister of the AME Church and a college administrator. He was born free in North Carolina and later lived and worked in Ohio, where he could vote before the Civil War. Following Bruce’s term, Mississippi adopted a new constitution that essentially denied the black residents’ vote (FHTE, paragraph 3, p. 227). Revels and Bruce were the only black Senators elected and seated until Edward Brooke’s (Mass-R) general election victory in 1967 (FHTE, p. 379, Note #33).
President Lincoln’s successor, Democrat Andrew Johnson (1865-69), publicly espoused anti-slavery rhetoric but held a secret disdain for black American (FHTE, paragraph 1, p.161). He also avoided being harsh toward punishing ex-Confederate leaders, which served to shape his less than enthusiastic approach to Reconstruction and establishing black rights for the Freedmen (FHTE, paragraph 6;2, pp. 161-162.). Johnson was impeached by the House of Representatives, February 24, 1868. However, he was later tried and acquitted by the Senate in May of that year. White violence led by Southern Democrats and the intimidation of the black electorate increased throughout the South. By 1952, black voter registration in the south dropped dramatically, in Mississippi to fewer than 6 percent of eligible black voters.
What Group does U.S. Reparations Target? – William A. Darity Jr. and A. Kirsten Mullen
6. “Why not include all blacks in the U.S. reparations claim? Even those living elsewhere?”
The specificity of the case for black American descendants of slavery includes only those subjected to all three phases of atrocities and their cumulative effects: 1) slavery, 2) Jim Crow (plus massacres), and 3) post-Jim Crow era damages. Native black American slave descendants (i.e., ADOS) are the only group with a claim on the U.S. government associated with the unfulfilled promise of the 40-acre land grants. Unique historical processes that determine their immense shortfall in wealth, vis-à-vis white America, do not apply to the wealth position of more recent black immigrants to the U.S. (FHTE, paragraph, 5 p. 42; paragraphs 1-3, p. 43)
Other blacks in the U.S. do have claims for reparations, just not on the U.S. government. Other groups are proceeding, as they should, with claims that do not include black American descendants of U.S. slavery (e.g., CARICOM’s former British colonies and the U.K., the Congo, and Belgium).
7. “Wasn’t slavery so long ago? Shouldn’t we have moved past it by now?”
Slavery was not “so long ago” from a generational perspective. There are persons who have lived into the 21st century with parents who were born into slavery. Ms. Hortense McClinton, now 102 years of age, is the daughter of Sebrone Jones King who was born in January 1865 in Texas as a white person’s property. There are still large numbers of persons who are two, three, and four generations away from slavery times.
Moreover, the effects of slavery extend to the present moment because of the failure to provide the formerly enslaved with any form of restitution for their years of bondage. That failure has crippled the wealth position of living descendants of U.S. slavery.
Plus, the ADOS case for reparations is not tied exclusively to slavery. Of course, slavery was the crucible that produced white supremacy in America and is the first item on the bill of particulars for atrocities. But the basis for African American reparations also is linked powerfully to nearly a century of legal segregation (“Jim Crow”) coupled with a series of massacres that took black lives and seizure of black property by white terrorists and post-Civil Rights era damages, including mass incarceration, police lynchings of unarmed blacks, and discrimination in employment, credit, and housing markets.
8. “Won’t it result in wasted money if black American descendants of slavery are given monetary payments? At best, won’t it just mean giving the money back to white people?”
Why does the assumption that black people will do stupid things with the money exist when that question did not get raised about other groups? To build assets out of the funds received—e.g., buying homes, developing or expanding businesses, purchasing financial assets, purchasing real estate, etc.—will likely mean some purchases will be made from whites. However, they will be purchases that build black wealth, which is the fundamental goal. To the extent that black Americans with higher wealth can more effectively build a black business infrastructure, the more likely any funds, from reparations or otherwise, will return to black hands.
Plus, we have clear evidence now that higher levels of a previous generation’s wealth will lead to higher levels of wealth AND income for subsequent generations, changing the game altogether. (FHTE, paragraph 2, p. 36).
9. “What’s the point if structural racism still is intact?”
Malcolm X made a comment in 1964 when he described a situation in which someone plunged a knife in his back. Malcolm distinguished between pulling the knife out and healing the wound. Reparations involve healing the wound, but it is important also to staunch the bleeding. The knife must be pulled out also. Pulling the knife out does not compensate the victim for the harm caused by the stabbing. Reparations or compensation for the harm caused by the stabbing includes giving African Americans sufficient monetary resources to eliminate the racial wealth gap. Such provisions make ADOS more politically able to fight structural racism.
10. “Won’t the Supreme Court block reparations legislation anyway?”
It depends on the Supreme Court’s alignment when Congress finally passes reparations for black American Descendants of U.S. slavery. As noted, under the Congress that passe such legislation must be prepared to appoint pro-reparations judges to the Court. (see Negro Will; FHTE, paragraphs 4-6, pp. 89-90). Also, see the answer to question 1 above.
Who Pays U.S. Reparations and How – A. Kirsten Mullen and William A. Darity Jr.
11. “Don’t reparations at the municipal or state level establish strong precedents for a national project?”
Local or piecemeal reparations are problematic and, to a large degree, a detour. Elimination of the racial wealth gap will require an expenditure of at least $10 to $12 trillion. The combined budgets of all state and local governments combined amount to approximately $3.1 trillion used for all purposes. Therefore, it is impossible for municipal and state level acts of restitution to approach the sum required to erase the black-white wealth difference. Only the federal government has the capacity to foot the bill.
Plus, the federal government is the culpable party, having established and maintained the legal and authority framework for slavery, nearly a century of official American apartheid, and ongoing atrocities directed against black American descendants of U.S. enslavement.
12. “Why not rely upon “baby bonds,” a program for all American children, to close the racial wealth gap, rather than reparations, which only target black Americans?”
“Baby bonds” is a policy designed to provide each newborn infant with an endowment calibrated on the basis of their parents’ wealth. The objective is to ensure each child of receiving a trust account that will bring their resources to a level consistent with the intergenerational transfer received by the child in the median wealth family (FHTE, Chapter 13 notes, pp. 390-391).
There are two reasons why “baby bonds” will not accomplish what can be achieved by true reparations. First, “baby bonds” is a universal program, and, in general, universal programs, even if they have, on the margin, a disproportionate benefit for black people, cannot eliminate the racial economic inequality because the gains go to everyone.
Second, because “baby bonds” target gaps at the median, they will leave untouched 97 percent of the wealth held by white Americans. Closing the racial wealth gap requires targeting the racial wealth gap at the mean rather than the median. That is a core attribute of a true reparations project. At best, baby bonds, after being fully executed after 40 years might reduce the 2019 racial wealth differential by twenty percent (https://socialequity.duke.edu/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Running-the-Numbers-8.4.19-FINAL.pdf). “Baby bonds” is a complement to a full-blown reparations plan for black American descendants of U.S. slavery, not a substitute.
13. “Won’t debt relief do the job of closing the racial wealth gap, rendering reparations superfluous?”
Student loan forgiveness, while a good idea, it will do even less to close the collective racial wealth gap for black Americans than the projected effects of a baby bonds proposal. In part, this is because the proportion of blacks (36%) who enroll in college and university and acquire debt is lower than the proportion of whites (4l%), although average black debt levels are about $7,400 higher. But the more compelling reason why there will be a sharp shortfall in closing the racial wealth gap by debt relief is simply that the size of the black-white gap is so large. At best, student loan forgiveness will reduce the gap by about one percent at the median difference and by an imperceptible amount at the mean difference (https://socialequity.duke.edu/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Running-the-Numbers-8.4.19-FINAL.pdf). Comprehensive reparations at the national level are essential to eliminate the immense gulf in wealth between black and white Americans (FHTE, paragraphs 1-2, p. 240).
14. “What has been the response of ADOS advocates to disparities in health outcomes particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic?”
The health of black people is placed in constant jeopardy in America (FHTE, paragraphs 4, pp. 235-236). There has always been a clear acknowledgment that the calamitous outcomes to health, employment, and remote education requiring adequate digital infrastructure, were fears held for ADOS children and adults due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A reparations position paper written by two co-authors for this issue of the FHTE quick guide was published by the American
Association for Adult and Continuing Education (AAACE) last June. The paper served to highlight these types of problems and emphasizes how reparations were imperative to provide community preservation and to shield ABAL from economic devastation due to the coronavirus outbreak.
15. “Which political party is responsible for the atrocities?”
All the political parties that existed—or subsequently changed political party names—and have led our Federal government during the three phases of American atrocities (FHTE, paragraph 4, pp. 5-6) targeting ADOS are responsible. The reparations claim for black Americans of ABAL ethnicity begins following the winning the War of Independence from Britain and the establishment of a new nation in 1776. That new sovereign codified and embedded the chattel slavery enterprise into its Constitutions providing the human capital that fed the economic engine which produced that Nation’s wealth and society. Therefore, pure reparations for black American ethnics are unique in this regard.
ADOS holds no opposition to Pan-Africanism or immigrant groups whose reparations claims involve attention to global or international anti-racism petitions. These groups have promoted slavery reparations claims under the aegis of CARICOM, not including African Americans. Select groups of AAFL Americans have exercised—with some success—social and political activism in America that do not center native blacks, not even include ADOS. We applaud those victories and seek to emulate them via pure reparations for ABAL ethnics.
Anti-Reparations Equity Arguments – Gabriel Piemonte
16. “Didn’t white people already pay for slavery by fighting the Civil War to free black people?”
The war to preserve the Union certainly did cost many white Northerners their lives. But equating their service as compensation to slaves and their descendants dishonors them and would arguably be an inaccurate accounting of history and the costs of the war. The massive expense of the Civil War, intended to end a vicious system of slavery that held millions of the country’s inhabitants in bondage and to preserve the Union should not call for any additional burden to be placed on those aggrieved (FHTE, para. 1, p. 308). Furthermore, the cost to the nation to end the practice of slavery was not exclusively shouldered by white soldiers. One out of every ten Union soldiers was black, numbering about 180,000 people. Moreover, one-third of soldiers killed in the Civil War were blacks fighting on the side of the Union (FHTE, para. 1, p. 309).
Besides, the war which ended slavery was not the only path to dismantling the practice. Compensated emancipation was also a viable alternative to war and the
loss of life. The brutal duration of the war would have been shortened, substantially, if compensated emancipation had been realized (FHTE, para. 3, p. 308). No payments for African American reparations have been made by the United States government. The debt owed in restitution for the triad of atrocities toward ADOS is still outstanding.
17. “My ancestors struggled and didn’t get any special treatment or programs to help them advance. Why should I give someone else an advantage over me?”
Virtually every other group that has come to the United States, mainly from Europe, has been provided with special programs to allow them to build assets for their families. Many immigrants and refugee groups get extended American social service benefits that aid in their comfortable living as new arrivals. A major example is the provision of 160-acre land grants to 1.5 million white families under the terms of the Homestead Act, first enacted during the Civil War in 1862.
In contrast, newly emancipated black people were denied 40-acres land grants that they were promised as restitution for their years of bondage. In the twentieth century, black soldiers returning from World War II were denied benefits such as in-demand training in the form of post-secondary education that other non-black soldiers enjoyed as part of the GI Bill (FHTE, paragraph 1, p. 311). Banks gave loans to non-ADOS veterans which were denied to native black American soldiers (FHTE, paragraph 1, p. 311). Also, in the United States, the benefit of Social Security was refused to native black agricultural and domestic workers when it was first implemented, effectively banning a vast majority of the ADOS workforce in the South from any chance at retirement resources (FHTE, paragraph 4, p. 310). The aggregated effect of these discriminatory practices was an economic leap forward for whites, further exacerbating the black-white wealth gap and fewer American opportunities for ADOS.
18. “Shouldn’t black people just build up political power and then try to get reparations? What good is economic power without influence in policymaking?”
In America, economic power is a precondition to political power. In fact, black communities that have enjoyed financial success have been targeted not just for harassment and abuse but for utter destruction. With the development of economic power, black citizens will gain a concomitant growth in political power (FHTE, paragraph 2, p. 31).
19. “Don’t we have to provide financial literacy to Black people before we start giving out money?”
Black Americans are among the most economically sophisticated citizens in the country. More economic innovations come out of the black community than any other group. Every economic configuration is present in the black community. For example, whether it is housing co-ops, credit unions, or buying clubs, black citizens who have been deprived of individual affluence longer than any other group, have been compelled to be economically resourceful. ADOS on many occasions has been forced to do more with less irrespective of calls for financial literacy (FHTE, paragraphs 4-5, p. 32) and community-based classes; reparations are the fail-stop.
20. “Isn’t there already a bill to study reparations? Why not just support that?”
H.R.40 is a bill to establish a “Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans,” but it is not adequate to the task of producing true reparations for black American descendants of U.S. slavery in its present form. In a recent Boston Globe opinion piece, Darity and Mullen outlined a series of essential revisions to HR40 that can better lead us to development of a viable national reparations project (see https://www.bostonglobe.com/2020/12/03/opinion/flaws-reparations-bill/).
Lisa R. Brown, BS, MPA, University of Akron; Ph.D. Adult Education, University of Georgia @Ambidextrous_X
William A. Darity, BA, Brown University; Ph.D. Economics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology @SandyDarity
A. Kirsten Mullen, BA, University of Texas – Austin, Folklorist and Arts Consultant and the Founding President of Artefactual @IrstenKMullen
Gabriel Piemonte, BA, Suffolk University @gabrielpiemonte