Asheville Daily Planet, April 2020
Reparations for slavery and segregation — an issue swept under everybody’s rug so long there’s barely a bulge.
I don’t like the word “reparations,” and I don’t like what some proponents are saying, but then I like less what Senator Mitch McConnell said: “No one currently alive was responsible for [slavery]. And I don’t think we should be trying to figure out how to compensate for it.”
The Pew Research Center estimates that today, white households are worth about 20 times more than black households.
Is this some kind of huge coincidence?
Slavery ended with the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865, but black people weren’t given the rights of free people for another 100 years. They weren’t even regarded as people.
The Brooklyn Dodgers assigned Jackie Robinson to minor-league Montreal for the 1946 season. The Montreal manager was a Mississippian. He begged Dodger general manager Branch Rickey not to make him manage an African American. “Mr. Rickey,” he asked, “do you think n***s are human beings?” That was in my lifetime.
I grew up in Georgia until 1954, and no exaggeration, every thread of our lives was white supremacy. I remember a time my parents visited us and saw my children playing with their black neighbors. My father reprimanded me: “They’re not like us.”
I never heard one person ever criticize Jim Crow segregation. Never. Not only were the races separated; the system made certain that, in every way, the other race was always less. Why did the gentleman who helped with our yard work have to drink water from a Coke bottle instead of a glass from our kitchen? I never wondered. I sort of understood that he had “his place.”
And that inferiority carried over to education, jobs, justice — and life itself. When a polio epidemic hit Wytheville, Virginia, in the summer of 1950, black patients weren’t accepted at Memorial and Crippled Children’s Hospital in Roanoke (80 miles away). They had to be taken 260 miles over pre-Interstate highways to Richmond for treatment.
There were legal remedies after the Civil War — on paper. The Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments gave ex-slaves legal standing. And when General Sherman completed his March to the Sea, he and Secretary of War Stanton met with 20 black leaders in Savannah to find out what they wanted. As a result, Sherman issued a special order — which was approved by President Lincoln: “The islands from Charleston, south, the abandoned rice fields along the rivers for thirty miles back from the sea, and the country bordering the St. Johns River, Florida, are reserved and set apart for the settlement of the negroes now made free.” They were to govern themselves, with no whites allowed to reside there. Tens of thousands of ex-slaves rushed to make claims.
But Lincoln was assassinated, and his successor, Andrew Johnson, a Southerner, nullified Sherman’s order — and did nothing to stop the violent subjugation of blacks. The paper remedies were crumpled.
White society, top to bottom, enforced white supremacy from then for a century. They did. No, we did, well into my lifetime — and Senator McConnell’s.
I read about monetary reparations, even detailed studies of slave wages computed over centuries with interest, amounting to trillions, to be divided among slave descendants. It’s totally unworkable and short-term. Better, a plan over decades, mostly around education.
I’d like to see a program that challenges the millions of successful blacks to be highly visible role models and a massive federal investment in scholarships for serious black young people. Call it yeast in the dough.
The U.S. military wastes enough money in one day to fund hundreds of students in state universities.
A resolution in the House of Representatives to study options, H.R. 40, will likely pass next year. Studying’s a start.
Georgetown University owned slaves to work their vast tobacco fields, and in 1838, the Jesuits there sold 242 of them to plantations in Louisiana. The university is looking for remedies. Their current president went to Louisiana in 2016 to meet with descendants of those slaves. And last year, G.U. students voted to add money to their tuition for scholarships for these descendants.
They recognize a debt is owed.