Time for Reparations

Blog by Sister Judy Morris, OP

In the era of COVID 19, celebrations are hard to come by. Thousands have begun gathering in restaurants, bars, and beaches without social distancing and masks, and those careless celebrations have been dampened by spikes in cases in a number of states. With July 4th on the horizon, even more will want to forget about social distancing and gather for picnics and fireworks.  After all, we need to celebrate freedom from British rule, and freedom for all.

Really?  Correction:  freedom for white men.

Thanks to the Administration’s tone-deaf scheduling of a “come back” rally on the 19th of June, Juneteenth has become part in the vocabulary of many in the United States. Juneteenth is an important celebration of freedom, marking the end of slavery, and has, sadly, received little attention outside of the African American community until recently.

When General Gordon Granger and 2,000 Union soldiers arrived on June 19, 1865, in Galveston, TX, and announced that slavery had ended, a second Independence Day celebration began. With Black Lives Matter, awareness of Juneteenth has spiked and calls for making it a federal holiday have increased.  Mary Elliott, Curator of American Slavery at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History, states “Juneteenth is not simply a day for the end of slavery in the United States, but for the reflection on the history of slavery.”

Art by Ashley Apollonio-Hairston

Two significant events came together on June 19 in Tulsa.  While many celebrated Juneteenth, the Greenwood massacre of May 31, 1921, was a dark shadow in the background. During that tragic event, white citizens looted and burned 1,000 Black-owned businesses and homes, killing 300 African Americans and destroying 35 blocks of property known as Black Wall Street. The Tulsa Race Massacre demolished the hopes and dreams of a successful future for Blacks in the city. According to the Guardian, public funerals were banned to avoid explosive gatherings, and insurance companies refused to compensate the victims.

As we reflect on the Greenwood massacre in Tulsa and the Juneteenth celebration of an end to slavery, the revival of Jim Crow-like laws, lynching, income inequality and voter suppression continue to be part of the discussion.  Discussions of reparations need to be front and center, reflected in the growing movement in the United States.

Reparations could take the form of free college tuition for all African Americans, subsidized home mortgages, business start-up funds.  The list of possible support is lengthy.

For reparations to happen, Congress must create a national commission on reparations, pass a bill and the President sign the bill.

The time for action is now.  Make Juneteenth a federal holiday and pass a reparations bill that provides substantial financial support for African American citizens.

Posted in Peace & Justice Blog

5 responses to “Time for Reparations

  1. I’m so comforted that so many are concerned enough to comment. And I am sorry that so many have had bad experiences. I have received so much in my life that I have not earned (inherited money and household goods, grants for college, God’s grace and mercy). I am ever so thankful. A few people are not thankful for what they have received, but we cannot use the example of one or a few to generalize to a whole population. Further, the money proposed to repair past wounds has been earned by African Americans. There have been 400 years of African Americans working for no money or for less money than their white counterparts, while owners and employers profited from their work. It is past time that we make restitution and return the money that their ancestors earned but was stolen from them.

  2. Thanks, Judy. Who can even begin to comprehend the violence of the Greenwood massacre? And yet we white folks are so quick to be shocked and to condemn the occasional violence of some protestors in some cities.
    The question of reparations will be a thorny one indeed. I believe justice will require that the victims of slavery and racism’s subsequent expressions be the ones to determine how such funds will be used and have a large voice in establishing the amounts as well. I heard one black scholar on NPR yesterday declare that justice will demand $12 to 14 trillion, perhaps spread out over time.

  3. Throwing money at a problem is never the right answer. It is too easy and too remote. EEO failed. White Privilege resents any financial help for African Americans as “reverse racism”.
    Respect is the only right answer. Yes, it is much more difficult and frighteningly intimate. We do not need legislation. All we need is us. Gather small (50% color mix) focus groups to discuss local issues. Gather small (50% color mix) prayer groups. As an individual, intentionally make friends with someone different from yourself. I have attended evangelical church services and written checks for their ministries. My presence as the only white person was well noted and sincerely appreciated. The pastor asked a friend to sit with me to make sure I would be comfortable. We can certainly offer hospitality like that in our own churches, neighborhoods, clubs, committees….
    As a (white) college professor, I overheard students of color advise each other to take everything they can because society “owes” them. And one student of color even insisted that because he was funded by a minority scholarship, he was not required to participate in all the seminars or assignments like the other students. He even threatened me physically because I would not award him a “distinction in research”. He never showed up!
    Some people simply cannot be grateful for “freebies”. Color should not be the only requirement for “special entitlements”. Everyone has better self-esteem if they earn what they receive as long as the criteria are unbiased. We all receive respect by earning it, including us white folks, too. Christianity. What a concept!

    1. How right you are Cynthia–freebies with the attitude of ‘you owe me’ will only negate moving forward–on both sides of the coin. Step two requires integrated education and housing for everyone which requires a step one of bringing together our diverse populace in ways in which our various segments have voice and choices with real monies and concrete opportunities available now–not in the future to be.

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