On Tuesday, the House of Representatives passed a resolution that apologized to African Americans for the slavery holocaust and the post Civil War laws established to keep African Americans in a figurative and literal slave state, known in the South as Jim Crow. The passing of this resolution makes the House of Representatives the first branch of the Federal Government that has apologized for the horrific atrocity that we know today as slavery.
The bill was introduced by Rep. Steve Cohen of Memphis, Tennassee. Incidentally, Mr. Cohen is a Caucasian American. The resolution, which states:
“African Americans continue to suffer from the consequences of slavery and Jim Crow, long after both systems were formally abolished through enormous damage and loss, both tangible and intangible, indeed the loss of human dignity and liberty, the frustration of careers and professional lives, and the long-term loss of income and opportunity.”
The resolution appears on the surface to address almost every point that most psychologists, historians and anthropologists have argued the validity of for decades. But in what direction, if any, will this resolution take to make amends for a gross human error that has been recognized? From the looks of the resolution, the apology will have to suffice. No reparations or reparation studies were mentioned or suggested.
Nineteen years ago, and every year there after, Rep. John Conyers, MI, re-introduces a bill that he drafted for the study of reparations to descendants of African American slaves. Known as H.R 40, “Commission To Study Reparations for African Americans,” since January, 1989, Rep. Conyers has fought an uphill battle to just get a study on the subject of reparations. Just a study. The bill is still just a bill. Conyers named his bill ’40’ after the Special Field Order #15, issued by General Sherman, January 16, 1865, giving freed slaves forty acres of land and a mule to work it. This act was to help newly freed slaves support themselves and their families.
History tells us that this Special Field Order was rescinded. Which is why African Americans feel so strongly about the subject of reparations. Many perceive reparations to be about handouts and free money when actually it really is about receiving what is due. For example, in 1988, Congress passed a bill and issued an apology to Japanese Americans for succumbing to racial fears and prejudice during WWII by rounding up all Japanese Americans and herding them into so-called “detention centers.” An American name for “concentration camps.”
Part of this apology and resolution included reparations in the amount of twenty thousand dollars. Now, in no way is it being suggested that the United States pay out large sums of money to African Americans. Some would disagree. But the best way to compensate or establish reparations would be to create state of the art public schools to teach young African American children, to give them an adequate head start. Most urban cities are strapped for cash to run public schools and therefore African American children are receiving substandard educations, which equals bleak futures.
Another suggested form of sustaining reparations would be to extend the option of receiving a free university or college education for all African Americans who would like to advance their education. This would be an excellent avenue to give a gift that keeps on giving. With a community that is failing and increasingly irresponsible, cutting checks is not going to do it, which is why the issue of reparations is a sore spot.
But the only thing that my ancestor, George Ricks, a runaway slave from Tennessee, wanted for his children was for them to have an education, live free and have their own means of support. As his great, to the tenth power, granddaughter, that is all I want, too. All freed slaves wanted this for their children and those that came after them.
So, an apology is a step in the right direction. But the most important step should be extending a reparations program that, instead of being just another welfare check and crutch, would become an infused foundation to a self-sustained independence that births human dignity and pride.