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Reparations for African Americans

December 21, 1999

During the signing of the $5 billion agreement for Nazi slave labor reparations last week, where Secretary of State Albright called the deal the first serious attempt to compensate "those whose labor was stolen or coerced during a time of outrage and shame. It is critical to completing the unfinished business of the old century before entering the new."

The U.S. government have put pressure on the German and Swiss governments to "own up to their past and own up to their history." We now move to the reparations movement for African Americans. The question— Should the government compensate the descendants of slaves?-forces the U.S. to look at 380 years of history and come to terms with a troubling legacy. Some will ask, why shouldn’t the great-great grandchildren of those who were kept in bondage be compensated? Meanwhile, other segments of society will ask, why should we pay for the sins of our ancestors? Given the storm of controversy that was created when Rep. Tony Hall (D-Ohio) suggested that the U.S. should issue a formal apology to African Americans for slavery, the issue of reparations should provide a fiery public debate.

In every legislative session since 1989, Congressman John Conyers has introduced a bill that would establish a commission to examine slavery and its lingering effects on African Americans and the country as a whole. H.R. 40 is intended "to acknowledge the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery in the United States and the 13 American colonies between 1619 and 1865 and to establish a commission to examine the institution of slavery, subsequently de jure and de facto racial and economic discrimination against African-Americans, and the impact of these forces on living African-Americans, to make recommendations to the Congress on appropriate remedies, and for other purposes.


  • Congressman John Conyers, D-Michigan, sponsor of a reparations bill in Congress. From Detroit.

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