McKinney Lays Out the Facts on Reparations Now!
August 11, 2001
(WASHINGTON, D.C.) - From the inception of our nation in 1776 to 1868 a
thriving slave trade flourished between the United States and various African
nations. An estimated 30-60 million African men, women, and children were
forcibly taken from their African homelands and brought here to the United
States and enslaved. These people and their families were never compensated
by the US government for damages and human suffering which was caused by this
crime against humanity. That is why I am issuing a call for the issue of
reparations to be studied seriously in this country. I also believe that the
United States should issue an official apology for its participation in the
world slave trade of the 18th and 19th centuries.
The issue of reparations for blacks has long been avoided in this country
although there are countless reasons that validate the need. US jurisprudence
and history have honored the tradition of paying victims for damages and
suffering. US history is replete with instances of US support for the
payment of reparations to individuals and communities that have been wronged
by the US government. The United States government has even apologized at
least once for mistreating some of its citizens of color. The only thing
unusual about a discussion of reparations or payment of damages in the
American context is the outcry against reparations or damages being paid to
black people. The very outcry itself, given US history, is a sad indicator
of how far away this country really is from the One America that we all want
to see and live in.
The treatment of blacks in this country has historically been deplorable and
while steps have been made to better the racial climate, nothing has been
done to compensate those who have been wronged in the process. Bush does not
want to talk about reparations because he opposes paying compensation to
black Americans for slavery. That is what Ari Fleischer his spokesman, had
the nerve to categorically state at a White House briefing. I hope that is a
mischaracterization of President Bush's attitude, especially given the facts
surrounding the November 2000 elections. Fortunately, the facts of the long,
sorry story of the mistreatment of African Americans doesn't depend on the
supposed opinions of President Bush, Sadly, however, even the Emancipation
Proclamation failed to end the story. The end of the Civil War merely
ushered in yet another chapter in the long book on black marginalization in
the US that is still being written today.
The ignoble 1857 Dred Scott decision saw the United States Supreme Court rule
that no black man could be regarded as an equal and therefore had no rights
which the white man was bound to respect. Not even The Fourteenth Amendment,
which was the constitutional rejoinder to the Dred Scott decision, could
effectively protect Black women and men from the deep-seated racism which
produced Jim Crow and the end of the Reconstruction Era. The Supreme Court
nailed apartheid into the fabric of America with its 1892 Plessy versus
Ferguson decision which legally enshrined "separate but equal" as US custom
and law. Segregation would remain the law of the land until its demise
three-quarters of a century later.
Plessy versus Ferguson ushered in "Jim Crow" laws and marked the end of the
post-Civil War Reconstruction Era. Blacks were now legally barred from
access to employment and public places such as restaurants, hotels, and other
facilities. By the early 20th Century, every Southern state had passed laws
that created two separate societies; one black, the other white. Blacks and
whites could not ride together in the same railroad cars, sit in the same
waiting rooms, use the same washrooms, or drink from the same water
fountains. Blacks were denied access to parks, beaches, and picnic areas;
they were barred from many hospitals. What had been maintained by custom in
the rural south had become sanctioned by the United States Supreme Court as
the law of the land. These laws were not overturned until the 1954 Brown
versus Board of Education Supreme Court decision and the subsequent passage
of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The millions of blacks who lived and worked
in America's completely segregated society, suffered a century of terror and
lynchings at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan and the general public and the
complete failure of the state to protect them. Human Rights Watch recently
issued a report stating that the US should pay reparations not only for
slavery, but for segregation, too. No mention is made in the Human Rights
Report of the one hundred years of lynchings subjected to Black people in
America. Four little girls bombed to their deaths in 1962 are only just now
beginning to have justice served; however their parents, relatives, and an
entire grieving community received nothing in compensation for their
A recent and commendable Wall Street Journal article reported that in the
early 20th century, tens of thousands of convicts, most of whom were black
men, were snared in a largely forgotten justice system rooted in racism and
nurtured by economic expedience. Alabama was perhaps the worst offender, but
certainly was not the only one. Until nearly 1930, Alabama was providing
convicts to businesses hungry for hands to work in farm fields, lumber camps,
railroad construction gangs and, especially in later years, mines. For state
and local officials, the incentive was money and for many years, convict
leasing was one of Alabama's largest sources of funding. Nearly two decades
after slavery was abolished in America, men were dying as slaves in a prison
work scheme that benefited southern states and businesses. Alabama's forced
labor system generated nearly $17 million for the state government alone, or
between $225 million and $285 million in today's dollars. Of course, this
does not include the profits accruing to the many southern companies that
benefited from this mostly-black slave labor.
Unfortunately slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and prison slave labor were not
enough for the purveyors of state-sanctioned racial discrimination of the
American sort. The Federal Government of the United States used all its
available resources to thwart the call of African Americans for the US to
respect their basic human rights. Thus, the COINTELPRO program was born.
COINTELPRO was the FBI's secret program to undermine the struggle for freedom
from racism and discrimination that was led by African American, and later
Native American, Latino, and progressive white organizations. Though the name
stands for "Counterintelligence Program," the targets were not enemy spies.
In an infamous FBI memo, the stated purpose of COINTELPRO was to "expose,
disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize the activities of
black nationalist " organizations as well as "their leadership, spokesmen,
membership, and supporters."
The FBI took the law into its own hands and secretly used fraud, force,
harassment, intimidation, psychological-warfare, other forms of deception,
and even murder, to sabotage constitutionally protected political activity.
This reign of terror left countless black, white, Native American, and Latino
victims behind bars who were convicted of bogus crimes and to this day are
serving exceptionally long sentences that arose from their politically
motivated actions. Many of these men and women who have committed their
lives to movements that sought justice in an era marked by war, racial
violence, and political assassinations, are aging behind prison walls,
serving longer sentences than they would have in any other industrialized
Additionally, there have been many victims of COINTELPRO. Our country's
democracy is the biggest victim. That our laws could be subverted by a small
group of people in high office is a clear danger to all of us. However, that
it was done specifically to this country's people of color to deny them and
the United States the benefit of the authentic leadership of true
representatives of America's communities, especially America's black
community, deprives us all of talents that are even now desperately needed
but wasted in graveyards, prisons, or in fractured individuals, families and
communities. This illegal US government activity affected more than the
individuals involved, but also their families and our entire community.
Today the vestiges of racial discrimination, which began during the days of
black race hatred and slavery, are still visible.
Black women and men are haunted by the reality that "Driving While Black" in
many states makes you a prime target for police harassment. In the state of
New Jersey, at least eight of every ten automobile searches carried out by
state troopers on the New Jersey Turnpike over most of the last decade were
conducted on vehicles driven by blacks and Hispanics. 80% of the stops, yet
only 30% of the population. This is racial profiling at its worst. But New
Jersey is not the only Driving While Black culprit.
The Justice Department admits that blacks are more likely than whites to be
pulled over by police, imprisoned, and put to death. And, though blacks and
whites have about the same rate of drug use, blacks are more likely to be
arrested than whites and are more likely to receive longer prison sentences
Twenty-six black men were executed last year, some probably innocent; 2001
was begun by executing a retarded black woman.
Government studies on health disparities confirm that blacks are less likely
to receive surgery, transplants, and prescription drugs than whites.
Physicians are less likely to prescribe appropriate treatment for blacks than
for whites and black scientists, physicians, and institutions are shut out of
the funding stream to prevent this. As a result, Black American males and
females experience shorter life expectancy rates than do their white
counterparts. A black baby boy born in Harlem today has less chance of
reaching age 65 than a baby born in Bangladesh.
In the US education system, 40% of all public schools are racially exclusive,
meaning that fewer than 10% of their students are children of color while 40%
of public schools in large cities are "intensely segregated," meaning that
more then 90% of the students are children of color.
1998 statistics reveal that 26% of Blacks and 25% of Latinos live below the
poverty level while only ten percent of whites live below the poverty level.
The entire world watched the debacle of the Year 2000 Presidential election
in which countless black women and men were denied their constitutional right
to vote, suffering the same disfranchisement that their grandmothers and gr
andfathers struggled to overcome half a century earlier. So bad was the
spectacle that autocrats and dictators offered election monitors to the
United States. Even former President Jimmy Carter, noted for his election
monitoring around the world, stated that the US system was so bad that the US
wouldn't even qualify for Carter Center monitors. Sadly, 2007 marks the
expiration of important sections of the Voting Rights Act.
It is evident that the United States has not adequately addressed its problem
of race. Additionally, it has failed to even account for all its
transgressions against its black citizens. Passing laws has not been enough
to stem the tide of the deep-seated racism rooted in the fabric of America.
Even then, each time laws have been passed erosion of enforcement and the
laws themselves has been a consistent problem. The Reconstruction Era, after
the United States Civil War, was as short-lived as was the Second
Reconstruction which was inaugurated after the Brown versus Board of Educati
on decision. However, the 1978 Bakke Supreme Court decision began the
erosion of the real efforts to integrate the American mainstream. Shaw
versus Reno and Johnson versus Miller are important voting Rights Act Supreme
Court decisions which end the expansion of protections for blacks and other
people of color for the right to representation. The expiration of critical
sections of the Voting Rights Act could very well usher in a return of
state-sanctioned black disfranchisement on a scale worse than what was
discovered in the 2000 November Presidential election.
As you can see, the US is far from having adequately addressed its race
problem. In addition, I believe the United States is in long-standing
violation of international treaties that it has signed and ratified.
Participation in the World Conference Against Racism is but one step needed
to reverse the deep-seated appalling conditions and present-day treatment for
people of color in this country. the United States could and should also
apologize for its participation in the slave trade and the long history of
racism against black people that that participation fostered and supported.