- Yoruba Richenaward-winning filmmaker and associate professor at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, where she leads the school’s documentary program.
- Randy Quartermanfifth-generation descendant of Zeike Quarterman, who was enslaved by George Adam Keller, and co-founder of The Reparation Project.
- Lotte Lieb Duladescendant of William Hayes Paxton, an enslaver in the Mississippi Delta, and a member of Reparations for Slavery.
We look at The Cost of Inheritance, a new documentary that examines the growing movement for reparations for Black American descendants of people who were enslaved and addressing the historical injustices they have faced. While some of this is being done by city and state commissions tasked with studying reparations, others are attempting to address systemic racism at the local and personal level, as detailed in the film. “It’s pretty incredible, the pace in which we see reparations moving,” says filmmaker Yoruba Richen, who is hopeful that this work will eventually push the federal government into action. We also hear from Lotte Lieb Dula, a descendant of an enslaver in the Mississippi Delta, and Randy Quarterman, whose ancestor Zeike Quarterman was held in bondage, about how they are addressing the legacy of slavery in their personal lives.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
We look now at the growing movement in support of reparations in the United States for Black descendants of people who were enslaved. The state of New York recently joined California to establish a commission to study reparations and racial justice. More work is being done at the local and personal level, which is the focus of a new documentary premiering this week on PBS, The Cost of Inheritance, an America ReFramed special. This is the trailer.
LOTTE LIEB DULA: Cornelius, age 8, $500.
NARRATOR: A discovery brings strangers together.
SARAH EISNER: Seeing those names, it humanized it for me.
RANDY QUARTERMAN: Every time I say I’m the fifth generation of Zeike Quarterman, an enslaved man, part of me dies.
NARRATOR: On a journey across the years.
PATT GUNN: Field Article No. 15: 40 acres, a mule and $200. Abraham Lincoln is assassinated. The enslaved got nothing.
SHAWN ROCHESTER: Congress passes the Homestead Act, Social Security, the GI Bill, the FHA.
REV. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: Now, when we come to Washington, we are coming to get our check.
GEORGE FLOYD: Mom, I love you. I can’t breathe!
NARRATOR: Connected by a common cause.
LOTTE LIEB DULA: Harm happens locally, so repair has to happen locally. Do the work. Look at your own history. What was your family’s role?
NARRATOR: Seeking justice and peace.
AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by some of the people featured in The Cost of Inheritance. In Savannah, Georgia, Randy Quarterman is a fifth-generation descendant of Zeike Quarterman, who was enslaved by George Adam Keller. Randy co-founded The Reparation Project alongside Sarah Eisner, a fifth-generation descendant of Keller. In Denver, Lotte Lieb Dula is with us, a descendant of William Hayes Paxton, who was an enslaver in the Mississippi Delta. She’s with Reparations for Slavery. And in New York, we’re joined by Yoruba Richen, the award-winning director of this documentary.
Yoruba, before we play some clips, yes, let’s start with you. Talk about this movement for reparations, that’s hardly hitting the corporate media radar but is happening all over the country, both at state level, city level and personally, like the ones you document in this film.
YORUBA RICHEN: Absolutely. Good morning, Amy. Thank you for having us.
It’s pretty incredible, the pace in which we see reparations moving, everything from studying state commissions, like the one New York just passed — we’re actually now the third state; Illinois has one, as well — to cities all across the country who are looking into how to move forward on reparations for descendants of enslaved folks, and these personal stories. You know, as we were making this film over the past two years — past three years, we could hardly keep up with all of the different things we were hearing about, and even since the film has been completed. So, it’s a far cry from where we have come. I mean, I remember, you know, growing up in the ’80s. You talk about reparations, you were considered fringe. You were considered, you know, a crazy person.
So, you know, this movement has been ongoing, as the film shows. Since the end of slavery, Black people have been fighting for reparations, and it continues to be a long struggle. But what we show in The Cost of Inheritance is that there is — that it’s actually happening, and it’s happening on a personal level and on these local levels, which will hopefully give rise to and more momentum for it to happen on a federal level.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Randy Quarterman, your family is linked to Sarah Eisner’s family through slavery. You’re a fifth-generation descendant of someone who was enslaved by George Adam Keller. After she contacted you, you founded The Reparations Project to save the Quartermans’ family lands in Monteith and Port Wentworth, Georgia, after it faced various legal challenges. Could you talk about the relationship you formed with Sarah?
RANDY QUARTERMAN: Yes. Good morning.
The relationship I formed with Sarah was an eye-opening one for me, being born in Japan and raised in Japan 'til I was 13 and then coming here, not knowing anything about my Black history or anything like that, to learn about our heirs' property and an acre of it being taken by eminent domain, and also learning about the 90% of land — Black land loss that happened in the South itself. So, Sarah opened that door for me to really engage and really understand the history of my African American people, my Black people, and also understanding the dynamics of my own family that was lost.
AMY GOODMAN: You know, I want to go to a clip from The Cost of Inheritance that features you, Randy, as well as the woman who contacted you, Sarah Eisner.
SARAH EISNER: In 2019, I was speaking with my cousin Bill, who lives in the Savannah area. Bill said, “The Quarterman family still own this plot of 10 acres of land that George Adam Keller gave Zeike Quarterman in the 1800s.”
ROY QUARTERMAN: When we found out the land was given to Zeike, he came alive again to us.
PASTOR: If you got anything on your heart right now, this is the time. Hallelujah!
RANDY QUARTERMAN: August 2019, I had an email from Sarah acknowledging who her family was and if I was a descendant of Zeike Quarterman, who was enslaved by George Adam Keller. I was just, like, taken off track a little bit.
SARAH EISNER: I was definitely nervous and scared.
RANDY QUARTERMAN: My question was: What are they doing here? What’s going on?
SARAH EISNER: I remember thinking, “What have I done? What if they yell at me?” If they do, they do. They have every right to be angry.
RANDY QUARTERMAN: I consulted with Patt Gunn, somebody that was doing this type of work and understanding it.
PATT GUNN: And so you’re standing in a sacred ground. This is a slave-holding bin, we believe.
RANDY QUARTERMAN: She told me, said, “Hey, you know, your ancestors is on your back. It’s a special moment for you. You need to engage.”
See, like, one —
SARAH EISNER: Yeah.
RANDY QUARTERMAN: — two, three, four. And it’s staggered into corners, like where a house would be right here.
For me and my family, we know this is heirs’ property, land that’s passed down through family generations that has no will to say this person owns the land.
It should have been Zeike’s house. This probably, there was a house structure that was — they lived at.
But the land is not in our possession. A court-appointed lawyer became the executor of our property.
See, it’s like old bricks from back then.
And then Sarah was like, “Hey, I really want to get you some help to try to clear this title.”
SARAH EISNER: I thought this is so obviously a case of reparations, because of America’s first attempt at reparations right in that area.
AMY GOODMAN: And I want to go to another clip from The Cost of Inheritance that features our other guest, Lotte Lieb Dula.
LOTTE LIEB DULA: I’ve looked at my own family history, and I’ve documented three different governors that were likely involved in creating the laws of slavery. When I found out that Briayna had studied political science, that whole area, I thought, “Well, that matches the harm that I need to unwind.”
For white people, one of the most important things to know is this is not a gift. I am repaying a debt.
BRIAYNA CUFFIE: I started working with Lotte. I’ve learned things about my grandmother. I’ve learned about — a lot about my great-grandparents, down to the personality traits and even some of the ways I stand when I take pictures. It is very creepy to see someone, you know, who’s born in the 1870s have the same pose when she took pictures.
LOTTE LIEB DULA: Bri and I teach a class in reparative genealogy. We really cater to white people who have a family background of enslavement, and we give them an idea of what steps you would take to begin to do repair work. One of the first steps, understand the genesis of the racial wealth gap.
SHAWN ROCHESTER: You’ve got Black people today in America that own about 2% of U.S. wealth. After all of this time, about 2%. How did we get here?
LOTTE LIEB DULA: The history of my family really shows exactly how it works mechanically.
It all started with Elisha Paxton, my third great-grandfather. He established a plantation near Lexington, Virginia, beginning around 1815.
And with the proceeds likely from the plantation operations, he was able to send many sons to law school, including my second great-grandfather. So, right there, you have the benefit of his education.
In the early 1830s, several of Elisha’s sons, including my second great-grandfather, moved to the Mississippi Delta. There, they set up a law practice and, later, multiple cotton plantations.
REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE: Cotton became king. Cotton drove the creation of the Wall Street banks and made, really, the economy of the United States. But where did it put African Americans?
SHAWN ROCHESTER: If you go back to 1860, we know there’s about 4 million Black people held in bondage. Those people are the most liquid asset in the country — $22 trillion in today’s value in terms of the value of those folks to the country. It’s an enormous impact. So, the first is what was extracted from those people during that period of time. The second is what was extracted from those people following that time during the Jim Crow era.
AMY GOODMAN: That is a clip of The Cost of Inheritance, that’s premiering on PBS this week. Lotte Lieb Dula is with us, descendant of William Hayes Paxton, who was an enslaver in the Mississippi Delta, with Reparations for Slavery, a portal for white families walking the path of direct repair. If you can talk about your relationship with Bri Cuffie, who we see in this film, a young Black woman? When she talks about reparations for her, it’s repaying student debt. How did you hook up?
LOTTE LIEB DULA: Thank you, Amy. And it’s a real honor to be here with you today.
In early 2018, as you’ll see in the documentary, I found some boxes. And within those boxes I found records of my family’s records of enslavement on a plantation in Mississippi. And within about 24 hours, I had decided I was going to have to go on a journey of repair. One of the first things I did, looking around to figure out what — where do I go, who do I — I’ve got to talk to somebody about this, this history, and decide what to do. I discovered a group called Coming to the Table, and they were having a national gathering that summer. And at that national gathering, they were going to be discussing reparations. So I attended.
And I noticed immediately, I think, the youngest person at this gathering, that was Briayna Cuffie, and we both ended up attending the reparations session. And I made a bunch of pretty arrogant statements, saying how I wanted, essentially, to change the world and build a portal, and I wanted to know who would partner with me. And there were crickets. And I sort of wandered off a bit dejectedly, and Bri walked up to me and rolled up on me, and she just said, “You have some pretty mighty ideas there, but you haven’t thought about people like me. You’re setting up scholarships. You’re recommending this and that. What about me? I have six-figure college debt. I’m working three jobs. I’m barely making it. What do you have for me?” And so, in that moment, I realized not only was this the perfect partner for the portal, but that a path was opening up right in front of my eyes as to a beginning step I could take to engage in direct repair. So, that’s how we met. And as you’ll see in the film, our relationship unfolds.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Lotte, we only have about a minute, but I’m wondering your response — it’s gotten a lot of attention, Nikki Haley’s response as the GOP presidential candidate to the causes of the Civil War.
LOTTE LIEB DULA: Oh, I’m disgusted by that comment. Of course we know the cause of the Civil War. It’s slavery. In fact, I have in my ancestor’s memoir, there’s a direct quote, and he says “I don’t know what anybody else is calling this war, but I call it the war for the slaves.” So, it just goes to show that we really — we are so far apart in how we are looking at our history. We really need to come together. And that’s really what we recommend and how our portal works, is we take a very, very fine look at history, and we bring Black and white people together to engage in reparative genealogy and looking at our history together and forming bonds of repair.
AMY GOODMAN: Lotte Lieb Dula, we want to thank you for being with us, descendant of an enslaver in the Mississippi Delta, with Reparations for Slavery; Randy Quarterman, fifth-generation descendant of Zeike Quarterman, enslaved by George Adam Keller. Randy co-founded The Reparation Project along with Sarah Eisner. And we want to thank Yoruba Richen, the director of The Cost of Inheritance, an America ReFramed special. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González, for Democracy Now!