“FOR THE HANGED AND BEATEN. FOR THE SHOT, DROWNED AND BURNED. FOR THE TORTURED, TORMENTED AND TERRORIZED. FOR THOSE ABANDONED BY THE RULE OF LAW. WE WILL REMEMBER. WITH HOPE BECAUSE HOPELESSNESS IS THE ENEMY OF JUSTICE. WITH COURAGE BECAUSE PEACE REQUIRES BRAVERY. WITH PERSISTENCE BECAUSE JUSTICE IS A STRUGGLE. WITH FAITH BECAUSE WE SHALL OVERCOME.” (Inscription at Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama/National Memorial for Peace and Justice)
With the hot button issues of reparations having officially entered the 2020 election cycle for President for the United States I located my June 2014 issue of The Atlantic Magazine to review Ta-Nehisi Coates’ story entitled, The Case For Reparations. In bold print, Coats’ sub-titles “250 years of slavery. 90 years of Jim Crow. 60 years of separate but equal. 35 years of state-sanctioned redlining” were very captivating. I quickly did the math and added up the numbers. I missed the 250 years of actual slavery but my ancestor did not. I did not missed the latter years of Jim Crow nor the 35 years of separate but equal. And I did not miss the years of state-sanctioned redlining.
In the coming months you will hear presidential candidates give their official position on H.R.40 or its’ congressional title, “The Commision to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-American Act“. The resolution was introduced by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) on 01/03/17. Conyers forced early retirement from Congress after allegations of sexual harassment (#METOO Movement) left the resolution without a sponsor, hence the Honorable Shelia Lee Jackson (D-TX) was granted permission after her request to be listed as the first sponsor of H.R.40. Rep. Conyers had symbolically submitted a resolution to study the impact on slavery at the beginning of every session of congress for over the past 20 years, however the resolution never made it to the floor for a vote under democratic or republican control. Conyers was quick to state that we (congress) study everything else why can’t the issue of slavery and its’ impact be studied and proposals brought forth? But there is a reason why “reparation” is a hot button issue, politically, economically and morally. Who wants to talk about let alone study slavery? Why bring up the past? White America will quickly state how this was years ago and they were not involved. Black America will state how their ancestors were not slaves and they didn’t come from Africa. Yes, slavery is in the “past” but as the southern author, William Faulkner pinned, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
“Virginia is in fact a negro raising state. She (Virginia) produces enough for her own supply and six thousand for sale.” Author, Charles B. Dew, The Making of A Racist subtitle, A Southern Reflects on Family, History, and the Slave Trade, quoted his Virginia relative, Thomas Roderick Dew’s statement of 1832. Dew makes it clear in his introduction how the above quote by his ancestor had an impact on every subsequent chapter of his book. We do not want to reflect of our family history (yes the good, but not the bad and the ugly), nor our history and definitely not on slavery. It has been well documented that at the time of the Civil War, slavery was a $4,000,000,000 business in America, that is 4 Billion Dollars with a “B”, more that the industrial revolution and transportation industry up North combined and more than the valued real-estate in the South. Dew documents that a slave sold for $800 in 1800 could be sold for $1800 in 1860. I contend that The Civil War is not dead, it is not even past, as Faulkner stated. Americans can still debated on calling it the Civil War or the “War Between The States”. We can debate whether it was a war to free the slaves or it was all about States Right. The debated has become more civil but still places parents against their children, brother against brother, blacks against whites and region against region. The Civil War has just become a little more” civil”, and we have changed the grey and blue military uniforms for the red and blue states. What is not debatable is that more lives were loss during the Civil War than all other American wars or conflicts “combined” including World War I, WWII, Vietnam, Desert Storm and yes our current war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
There has been a small and subtle change between the “two America” during the pass four hundred years. South Carolina Senior Senator, John C. Calhoun, the statesman and spokesman for slavery saw two America, one white and one black. “The two great divisions of society are not rich and poor, but white and black” stated Calhoun on the Senate floor in 1848. John C. Calhoun believed slavery was a “positive good”
“I hold that in the present state of civilization, where two races of different origin, and distinguished by color, and other physical differences, as well as intellectual, are brought together, the relation now existing in the slaveholding States between the two is, instead of an evil, a good–a positive good….I hold then, that there never has yet existed a wealthy and civilized society in which one portion of the community did not, in point of fact, live on the labor of the other.”—John C. Calhoun
Fast forward to 1968 and the Kerner Commission also saw two societies (America) “…our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white–separate and unequal.” President Lyndon B. Johnson, who appointed the Kerner Commission, readily acknowledged the different between black poverty and white poverty in his civil-rights speech of June 4, 1965, taking into account the impact of slavery. “Negro poverty is not white poverty. Many of its causes and many of its cures are the same. But there are differences–deep, corrosive, obstinate differences–radiating painful roots into the community and into the family, and the nature of the individual. These differences are not racial differences. They are solely and simply the consequence of ancient brutality, past injustice, and present prejudice.”.
H.R 40 does not call for the spending of one red cent. It calls for a study and proposals. I doubt if H.R.40 will ever be voted upon on the floor of the congress, not today, not tomorrow and not within the next “40 years”. To study or reflect on our family, history and the slavery forces us to review and remember the “ancient brutality, past injustice and present prejudice”. Like the lyrics to the Barbara Streisand’s song, “Things too painful to remember, we choose simply to forget”,– The Way We Were. Mayo Angelo words, also inscribed at the Montgomery Legacy Museum are befitting specifically for Afro-American and in general for all Americans, “History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.” But like our Jewish brothers and sister, Afro-Americans should never forget. We should talk about our past with our children, “…And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.” Deuteronomy 6:7.