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African American Reparations--What Do You Think?

By Edited Aug 7, 2016 4 11

Not Everything Is Black Or White

We live in a society where we want everything to be black or white and when I say this, I am not referring to the color of our skin. We like to have everything all nice and neat and if it's not we like to tuck it away in a closet or on a shelf where it is out of sight. Life is never nice and neat and not everything is black or white. There is great discussion and debate going on in our country about African-American Reparations.

Many American citizens feel that they should not be held accountable for crimes or actions committed by their ancestors hundreds of years ago. Some agree 100% that slavery was a travesty yes, but they don't feel it is their responsibility to do anything about it at this date in time. There are others who simply feel that it happened so many years ago, that African-American people should just get over it

Black and white

But what about the racism and prejudice that continues to be the fallout from our country’s shameful past where slavery was a part of everyday life? No other ethnicity has been singled out and looked down upon more so than the African-American.  

This country was founded on the concept of freedom, yet African-American citizens are the only American citizens who are free by way of the 13th Amendment[3] to the United States Constitution. Think about that.

The Beginning Of Slavery In America

In 1581, African slaves were brought in to Florida to  St. Augustine. In 1641, Massachusetts was the first to legalize slavery. South Carolina passed the “Negro Act” in 1740, making it illegal for slaves to learn to read, assemble in groups, raise food, or earn their own money. Slave owners were legally allowed to kill a slave if they should rebel against them. 

Dred Scott photograph (circa 1857)

In 1857, with the Dred Scott Decision The United States Supreme Court decided, seven to two, that black people can never be American citizens and that Congress does not have authority to outlaw slavery in any territory.

The Emancipation Proclamation of President Abraham Lincoln makes all slaves in Rebel territory free men and women, on January 1, 1863. In 1865, slavery is abolished with the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution outlawing slavery.

We all know, however, that it didn’t stop there. Other ways were created to get around the abolishment of slavery.

Slavery and the Making of America DVD Set
Amazon Price: $599.99 Buy Now
(price as of Aug 7, 2016)

Black Codes And Jim Crow Laws

Black Codes were soon instituted into law books in many states, requiring freed black persons to follow a separate set of rules or be legally punished. After all, the 13th Amendment states that the only time slavery can exist, is if it is meted out as punishment.

If you were a black person, and you were on the street and asked by authorities for written paperwork of your employment and you didn’t have any, you were arrested for vagrancy. If you did not have employment and written verification of it, your punishment after being arrested was, you guessed it, a fine. If you couldn’t pay the fine, you were hired out to the lowest bidder (of course, white people) until your fine was worked off.

Black people were also banned from having or possessing most firearms, from making or selling any kind of liquor, banned from selling farm products without written permission from a white employer and they could only have the occupations of farmer or servant under contract unless they got an annual license from a judge. 


Of course from the 1880’s up into the 1960’s, we had the Jim Crow laws.[2] It seems to me that no matter which way an African-American person turned, they were being pushed back and held back.

Jim Crow Jubilee Lithograph

So let’s put this all in perspective. Generation, after generation of African-Americans were brought into this country against their will as slaves. Many were mistreated, abused and oppressed in so many ways. When they were finally freed, they were given 40 acres of land and mule only to have it taken away again within a few short months. Then they were held accountable to more laws made especially for them making it nearly impossible to make a living or accumulate anything for their families without going right back to the ones who enslaved them to begin with. If they were homeless or jobless they were fined. If they couldn’t pay the fine within a short time, they were AGAIN turned over to the highest bidder for their labor to work off the fine. They were controlled once again by laws created just for them to keep them tightly in line according to what white people thought was right.

Things haven’t changed much. African-Americans are still being fined, sentenced and incarcerated at a rate higher than white citizens of this country. [1] We still live in a country dotted with sundown towns and racial bias in corporate America as well as our educational system and even the housing market.

What would their lives be like here in America, if they had come here of their own accord, as free men and women, just as white people did? What would their lives have been like then and even today, if they had been given the same set of rules and laws to follow, as white people? How would their lives be different now, if more of their families had be able to stay together, if they had more ancestors who were able to hand down land and homes and businesses?

So what do you think about Reparations? Do we owe our African-American citizens from all the crimes committed against them in the past? What about the present? What would you do to fix this?

The Case for Black Reparations
Amazon Price: $18.00 $9.48 Buy Now
(price as of Aug 7, 2016)
Originally published in 1972, Boris Bittker's riveting study of America's debt to African-Americans was well ahead of its time. Published by Toni Morrison when she was an editor, the book came from an unlikely source:
Bittker was a white professor of law at Yale University who had long been ambivalent about the idea of reparations. Through his research into the history and theory of reparations-namely the development and enforcement of laws designed to compensate groups for injustices imposed on them-he found that it wasn't a'crazy, far-fetched idea.' In fact, beginning with post-Civil War demands for forty acres and a mule, African-American thinkers have long made the case that compensatory measures are justified not only for the injury of slavery but for the further setbacks of almost a century of Jim Crow laws and forced school and job segregation, measures that effectively blocked African-Americans from enjoying the privileges of citizenship.


Jun 26, 2014 2:48pm
This is a fairly good introductory piece on the subject. The issues involved are very complex, and I'm unclear how we could go about insuring that only those directly affected in their lineage could be vetted and compensated. For example, Barack Obama does not have slavery in his ancestry--his wife, Michelle, however, does. It's a real stickler of an issue, and good for you for tackling it. Very big subject. Thumb.
Jun 27, 2014 8:18am
I agree, this article only touches on the tips of the iceberg and unfortunately, as it says at the beginning, not everything is black or white. There are so many nuances and I am not sure how our country could even begin to make this right but something should be done in an attempt to do so. I think the first step is to make people think about it and to hopefully understand what these folks and their families actually went through and how it has affected them and how it still affects them even in today's world. Thank you for your input!
Jun 28, 2014 2:43pm
Janeybird, as an African-American, I applaud you for writing an article on this subject. The subject is often debated in the black community. America does owe blacks something for its free labor and contributions to American society. The question might be, how can we honor the memory of the slaves while acknowledging that our country has improved tremendously when it comes to race relations? Should citizens today be held responsible for the past sins of past Americans? Is this fair? This is a terrific article and thumbs up, janeybird!
Jun 28, 2014 3:24pm
Thank you for reading and commenting on my article curiosity44. This is an important issue in my eyes and I think there are way too many people out there that simply shrug it off or look the other way because it does not affect them directly. Six or seven years ago, I would have been one of those people and I won't go into everything here but now I can see a lot more of this world for what it really is and it is not nearly as pretty but it is REAL and only we can change it. Thank you again and I hope you have a great day!
Jul 1, 2014 9:26am

Very informative, well researched. It's always an explosive subject.
Jul 1, 2014 3:21pm
Hi Jeff, yes it is, people generally feel very strongly one way or the other but I feel it is something that needs to be put out there. Thank you for reading and the comment! Have an wonderful day~
Aug 9, 2014 1:43am
Freed slaves were given 40 acres and a mule with counseling to grow cash crops such as cotton so they could make money to survive without a slave master telling them what to do. Instead they only grew food crops for their own consumption and failed to pay expenses. Eventually lost land for failure to pay for expenses. Major reparations were paid in the loss of more than 350,000 northern lives who died for black man freedom. Never hear about any thanks to them or the hardships soldier families endured for black freedom. Now Social Justice such a Black Theology (Cone, West, etc) says white people cannot be saved by Jesus until white person gives ALL their assets to black people for reparations. Lots and lots of history with verified facts to support the real truth. What about reparations to white families for Nat Turners raids slaughtering white women and children? There is lot more to this than political correct history books.
Aug 12, 2014 7:42am
TheGuru33 thank you for your comments and input, I always welcome other view points.

The freed slaves were to be given 40 acres and a mule according to Sherman's Field Order 15. (this took place in January of 1865)The land they were set aside was a chunk of about 400,000 acres of abandoned land along the Georgia and South Carolina borders. Much of it was only suitable for growing rice. In March of 1865, Congress established the Freedmen's Bureau to provide for the allocating of the land. At this point, Congress only allowed the Freedmen't Bureau to sell 5 to 10 acre tracts of land to freed slaves. ("up to" 40 acres...)

In June, there were some 40,000 freed slaves on the land that is referred to as Sherman's Land and later that summer, President Johnson reversed Sherman's Field Order 15 by ordering all plantation lands given to slaves be returned to their original owners.

So here we've gone from giving them land in January, let them get settled, work it until June and then take it all away again. I fail to see how that constitutes black people were given land and squandered it away?

In 1865 Congress tried to pass a civil rights law to define citizenship and protect everyone equally by law but it was vetoed by President Andrew Johnson. In April of 1866, Congress passed the bill as President Johnson again vetoed it, but they had a two-thirds majority in each house and the bill became law.

You are correct when you say there is a lot more to this than politically correct history books. I agree with you 100%. Do I feel that African-Americans had a fair shot at things all those years ago? No I don't. Do I feel that reparations will fix things? No I don't. But what will make it better? That's what I want to know.

I have never seen any other nationality treated differently..."on sight" except for African-Americans. Because of the color of their skin. People nowadays think that is something of the past, it is not.

I've watched people get turned down for a job, because of the color of their skin. I've watched a Real Estate salesperson tell an African-American that they probably "wouldn't fit in" in that neighborhood when calling on a rental. Really?

This stigma has followed these people for hundreds of years and continues to do so today. My question is, what would have happened had African-American people been able to keep and work their land instead of having to give it back? What if they had every opportunity in exactly the same manner that white people had? How different would life be today?

As far as some of the other things you commented on, Liberation Theology and such, no, I do not believe in that and the reason I do not believe in that is because I believe what it says in the Bible.

Ephesians 2:8-9 King James Version (KJV) For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.
John 14:6 King James Version (KJV) Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.


The Nat Turner Rebellion caused no gain in any way shape or form for African-Americans. It did not take away wealth, land, power or privilege from one nationality to the other, to be built upon generation after generation. Did it take lives? Unfortunately it did. There were 55-65 white people killed in this rebellion and there were up to 200 African-American people killed in the aftermath.

There were laws passed because of this rebellion making it against the law for black people to obtain an education, restricting the right for them to assemble together, and making it so that if they wanted to have their own church gathering, there had to be a white minister present.

Reparations is a touchy subject but one I think needs to be talked about because the damage is there, it is real and it isn't going away. So what will help correct our past?

Thank you again for your comments and thank you for reading!

Aug 12, 2014 10:59pm
Janeybird, Yes you are correct about President Johnson reversed Sherman's Field Order 15 by ordering certain plantation lands that were abandoned or confiscated, given to slaves, be returned to their original owners. However, there were thousands of freedmen that did acquire other lands and lost it due to mismanagement. Many blacks were also taken advantaged due to their illiteracy in the sharecropper arrangements. There is no debate that blacks were taken advantaged. The debate is about reparations. The point is that there was an extreme amount of problems trying to settle the issue then, post civil war, and reparations did not work out. How to do this fairly? One example, of many, is if one’s white ancestor immigrated to the US after the civil war, is that person held accountable for reparations, ex post facto? Your question is what to do. Perhaps the best answer is that we don’t allow it to happen again. Provide equal opportunity for all people to achieve based on their own merits and not crippling society with forced equal outcome regardless of one’s abilities. Your article is thought provoking. In my former life I was a public accountant in charge of company development under US Title VII for minorities. I was also the database engineer and auditor who acquired the data and developed the data base for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgage foreclosures audits. I have seen reparations more than paid in full.
Aug 11, 2014 2:37pm
Very well written and eye opening article!
Aug 12, 2014 7:42am
Kasmic thank you for reading and for commenting!
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  1. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People "Criminal Justice Fact Sheet." NAACP. 25/06/2014 <Web >
  2. "Jim Crow Laws." Martin Luther King, Jr., National Park Service. 25/06/2014 <Web >
  3. "13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Abolition of Slavery." National Archives. 30/06/2014 <Web >

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