The 500th post at VASS - Our future demands understanding our past
I took some time in thinking about what I might discuss in the 500th post for VASS. There is the American Presidential race in general, the candidates - Senator McCain and Senator Obama, race relations, the recent apology by the House of Representatives for slavery and Jim Crow, the lack of a similar apology out of the Senate, domestic drilling, energy and its cost, inflation, the economy, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and of course fanatical groups like Al Quida and Iran. Obviously there is no lack of issues that are current and important to discuss.
But because this is the 500th post, and because one of the most important issues facing America has been and continues to be race relations I decided to go there. Considering the fact that CNN recently wanted to discuss their view on what it is to be Black In America, and that there has been no fanfare accompanying the actions of the House, I felt the issue of an apology would be fair game.
But I don't think anyone can really dispute the apology. The wording of the House Resolution 194 is very clear and consice. But there is another part that goes with it. Reparations.
Like the elephant in the room, everyone is afraid to discuss this issue. Most don't even know the history of it. Especially those that dispute reparations. So I am reposting a portion of an early post I made that deals directly with this question. It is not the only reason or explaination of reparations to be found on my blogs, but it does clarify the history.
And here you are:
Reparations is what is being directly referred to when the term 40 acres and a mule is brought up. As mentioned in the goals of Blackout, it is directly part of the compensation for unpaid labor by African slaves from 1619 to 1865. More fully it is linked to General Sherman and War Department, Special Order No. 15 –
"The islands of Charleston south, the abandoned rice fields along the rivers for thirty miles back from the sea, and the country bordering St. Johns River, Florida, are reserved and set apart for the settlement of [N]egroes now made free by the acts of war and the proclamation of the President of the United States."
Additional reference to First Freedmen’s Bureau Act, which stated
“…shall have authority to set apart for use of loyal refugees and freedmen such tracts of land within the insurrectionary states as shall have been abandoned or to which the United States shall have acquired title by confiscation or sale, or otherwise; and to every male citizen, whether refugee or freedman, as aforesaid there shall be assigned not more than 40 acres of such land...”
While the order by General Sherman did in fact provide for land, the above mentioned First Freedmen’s Bureau Act was shot down by Congress, this was later rescinded by President Jackson, even though it was argued that
"...In my opinion this order of General Sherman is as binding as a statute."
Reparations have been discussed and proposed to Congress since that time for roughly 138 years, and has not been resolved yet.
Starting in 1989, U.S. Representative John Conyers Jr. began annually introducing legislation calling for a study of the lasting effects of slavery and possible reparations. Why some would ask? What benefit could it bring?
Well there is NO question that America was built largely due to the efforts of slaves. The U.S. was an agriculture based economy and the cash crops of cotton, tobacco, staples such as corn and rice, were grown in the south with slave labor.
Estimates of the value of the unpaid labor and/or the above mentioned land has been placed from $9.7trillion to $24trillion, with other estimates slightly lower and many higher. Such estimates only confirm the absolute value and impact slave labor had on the formation of this nation. The foundation of this nation, upon which all other advances and achievements have been accomplished, is based in that fact.
After the slaves were freed, which happened with the 13th Amendment and not the Emancipation Proclamation [you can see President Lincolns' thoughts on this matter in my post to a comment at History in America comments], Jim Crow and other equally repressive laws and actions hindered Black African Americans. Incidents have occurred even in the 20th century and include the Tuskegee syphilis experiments in the 1930s, the destruction of Tulsa’s Black neighborhoods in 1921 and the loss of life and property when the all-Black town of Rosewood was destroyed by a white mob in 1923. The need to have a civil rights movement clearly states that there was massive widespread and constant repression of Black African Americans over many decades at the least.
Even with the many individuals and groups who have actively supported reparations, including Mr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and U.S. Representative John Conyers Jr., there still has been no action. Yet reparations have been made to Japanese Americans and Native American Indians, at least to some degree. Remorse has been expressed by the Government to both groups. Yet the United States Government has never apologized nor acknowledged the wrongs done with slavery and its actions/attitudes in the over a century since that time. [Now corrected, a portion of the Government has taken some non-binding action towards an apology on July 28, 2008]
It seems incredible that any government or institution could overlook such actions, I think. The world could not abide a lack of reparations for the Holocaust, yet the unknown numbers of Black African Americans that died (as damaged goods lost in transport for sale, or by slave owners as useless property, or from acts of cruelty) for centuries is something that can't even be discussed. I have a major problem with that.
Why reparations? In my mind it is simple... the nation has never healed, and never will until admission of its actions up to and including the civil rights movement is made. Monetary repayment is due, made perhaps in other manners besides direct cash payments [perhaps a fixed tax credit that is used over a lifetime and transferable to offspring until used], but denial of the fact of how this nation came to be is no excuse. We will never get beyond the nations largest and most subtle activity which is the division of Americans based on race, if we cannot come to terms with the past.
Labels: 40 Acres and A Mule, First Freedmen’s Bureau Act, General Sherman, House of Representatives, race in America, Reparations for Slavery, Representative John Conyers Jr, Rosewood, Tuskegee Experiment