Reparations for slavery

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Reparations for slavery is the idea that some form of compensatory payment needs to be made to the descendants of Africans who had been enslaved as part of the Atlantic slave trade. The most notable demands for reparations have been made in the United Kingdom and in the United States. Caribbean and African states from which slaves were taken have also made reparation demands.

These reparations are speculative; that is, they have never been paid. They can be contrasted with compensated emancipation, the money paid by governments to slave owners when slavery was abolished, as compensation for the loss of the property.

United States[edit]

Slavery ended in the United States with the end of the American Civil War and the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, which declared that, "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction".[1] At this time, there were an estimated four million African Americans that were set free.[2]

Within the political sphere, only one major bill demanding slavery reparations has been proposed, the "Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act," which former Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) proposed unsuccessfully to the United States Congress every year from 1989 until his resignation in 2017.[3] As its name suggests, the bill recommended the creation of a commission to study the "impact of slavery on the social, political and economic life of our nation".[4]

In 2014, prominent American journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates published an article titled "The Case for Reparations", which discussed the continued effects of slavery and Jim Crow laws and made renewed demands for reparations. Coates makes reference to Rep. John Conyers Jr.'s aforementioned H.R.40 Bill, pointing out that Congress's failure to pass this bill expresses a lack of willingness to right their past wrongs.[5]

In September 2016, the United Nations' Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent published a report that concluded the United States needed to take urgent action to end ongoing racial injustice. The report noted that there still exists a legacy of racial inequality in the United States, explaining that, "Despite substantial changes since the end of the enforcement of Jim Crow and the fight for civil rights, ideology ensuring the domination of one group over another, continues to negatively impact the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of African Americans today." The report goes on to explain that a "...dangerous ideology of white supremacy inhibits social cohesion among the US population".[6] In the report, the Working Group encouraged Congress to pass H.R. 40, a bill introduced repeatedly by John Conyers to study reparations proposals, but the Working Group did not directly endorse any specific reparations proposal.

Demands for reparations and accompanying estimates have come in many different forms. In 1999, Randall Robinson, founder of the TransAfrica advocacy organization, wrote that the history of race riots, lynching and institutional discrimination have "resulted in $1.4 Trillion in losses for African Americans".[7] Economist Robert Browne wrote the ultimate goal from reparations should be to "restore the black community to the economic position it would have if it had not been subjected to slavery and discrimination".[8] He estimates a fair reparation value anywhere between $1.4 – $4.7 Trillion, or roughly $142,000 for every black American living today.[8]

Opposition to reparations[edit]

Despite many demands made in favor of slavery reparations, strong opposition exists. Conservative writer David Horowitz wrote a list of ten reasons why "Reparations for Slavery is Bad Idea for Blacks - and Racist Too" in 2001.[9] He contends that there isn't one particular group that benefited from slavery, there isn't one group that is solely responsible for slavery, only a small percentage of whites ever owned slaves and many gave their lives fighting to free slaves, and most Americans don't have a direct or indirect connection to slavery because of the United States' multi-ethnic background.[9]

Political commentator Dinesh D'Souza argues that African Americans are "vastly better off than they would have been had their ancestors not endured captivity and European rule".[10] He bases this assertion on the better economic conditions for African Americans than Africans, on average. In addition, columnist Stanley Crouch equated reparations with a form of "victim studies", and described demands for reparations as a "...racial complaint that has existed since the early '60's".[11]

Furthermore, in 2014, in response to Ta-Nehisi Coates's article, "The Case for Reparations", American journalist Kevin D. Williamson published an article titled "The Case Against Reparations." Williamson explains, "The people to whom reparations are owed are long dead; our duty is to the living, and to generations yet to come, and their interests are best served by liberty and prosperity, not by moral theory."[12] He goes on to argue that African Americans' political interests can be corrected through equality under the law, and their economic interests can be served through "...a dynamic and growing economy, preferably one in which the labor force is liberated from the dysfunctional, antique Prussian model of education that contributes so much to black poverty".[12]

Another article opposing reparations to slavery was also published in 2014 by Canadian-American neoconservative political commentator David Frum. In his article, titled "The Impossibility of Reparations", he makes a five-point case against slavery reparations. First, he predicts that a program providing reparations to Blacks would be a slippery slope, for soon other historically discriminated minorities, such as women or Hispanics, would make similar demands. Second, he explains that deciding who qualifies for reparations would be an embittered, borderline impossible process. Third, he argues that a reparations program would produce enormous side effects. For example, Frum notes that providing reparations to Blacks may de-incentivizing them from working and expose " of America's least financially sophisticated populations to predatory practices...".[13] Fourth, Frum points out that the program could further exacerbate inequalities, for "...when government spends money on complex programs, the people who provide the service usually end up with much more sway over the spending than the spending's intended beneficiaries".[13] Fifth and finally, Frum argues that a reparations program would quickly lose legitimacy, for simply too many logistical problems would arise in deciding how to implement the distribution of money.[13]

Strong opposition to slavery reparations is reflected in the general population. In a study conducted by YouGov in 2014 found that, although 55% of Americans believe Germans should provide cash payments to Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, only 37% of Americans believed that slaves should have been provided compensation in the form of cash after being freed. Furthermore, a mere 15% believe that descendants of slaves should receive cash payments. A stark divide exists between Whites and Blacks on this issue. The summarizes their findings regarding this divide: "Only 6% of white Americans support cash payments to the descendants of slaves, compared to 59% of black Americans. Similarly, only 19% of whites – and 63% of blacks – support special education and job training programs for the descendants of slaves."[14]

United Kingdom[edit]

In 2004 descendants of Africans enslaved in America enlisted lawyer Ed Fagan in a class action lawsuit against insurance market Lloyd's of London, among other British and American corporations, stating that by insuring and financing the slaving ships they were complicit in genocide.[15][16] The case was not successful.[17] In Jamaica in 2004, a coalition of Rastafari movement and the Berber Moors[better source needed] who built the infrastructure of nations but never fully got paid for their building knowledge, and other groups argued that European countries formerly involved in the slave trade, especially Britain, should pay 72.5 billion pounds sterling to resettle 500,000 Jamaican Rastafarians in Africa. The claim was rejected by the British government, which said it could not be held accountable for wrongs in past centuries.[18]

On 27 November 2006, British Prime Minister Tony Blair made a partial apology for Britain's role in the African slavery trade. However African rights activists denounced it as "empty rhetoric" that failed to address the issue properly. They feel his apology stopped shy to prevent any legal retort.[19] Blair again apologized on 14 March 2007.[20]

On 24 August 2007, Ken Livingstone (then Mayor of London) apologized publicly for London's role in the slave trade. "You can look across there to see the institutions that still have the benefit of the wealth they created from slavery", he said pointing towards the financial district, before breaking down in tears. He claimed that London was still tainted by the horrors of slavery. Jesse Jackson praised Mayor Livingstone, and added that reparations should be made.[21][22]


In 1999, the African World Reparations and Repatriation Truth Commission called for the West to pay $777 trillion to Africa within five years.[23]

In September 2001, the United Nations sponsored the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance held in Durban South Africa. The Durban Review Conference sponsored a resolution stating that the West owed reparations to Africa due to the "racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance" that the Atlantic slave trade caused.[24] Leaders of several African nations supported this resolution, former Minister of Justice of Sudan, Ali Mohamed Osman Yassin stated that the slave trade is responsible for the current problems plaguing Africa.

Opposition to reparations[edit]

Prior to the Durban Review Conference, President of Senegal Abdoulaye Wade stated that the idea of reparations was "insulting" because it insinuated that providing compensation for slavery would make it "cease to exist".[25]

Social scientist Rhoda Howard-Hassmann argues that the logic behind the resolution drafted at the Durban Conference is based on modern laws governing crimes against humanity being applied retroactively to the slave trade, asserting that Western nations are not liable for reparations since the slave trade was not considered a war crime.[26]


In 2007, Guyana President Bharrat Jagdeo formally called on European nations to pay reparations for the slave trade.[27] President Jagdeo stated, "Although some members of the international community have recognized their active role in this despicable system, they need to go step further and support reparations."[27] In 2014, the Parliament of Guyana established a "Reparations Committee of Guyana" to further investigate the impact of slavery and create formal demands for reparations.[28]

In 2011, Antigua & Barbuda called for reparations at the United Nations, saying "that segregation and violence against people of African descent had impaired their capacity for advancement as nations, communities and individuals".[29] More recently, in 2016, Ambassador of Antigua and Barbuda to the United States, Sir Ronald Sanders, called on Harvard University "to demonstrate its remorse and its debt to unnamed slaves from Antigua and Barbuda." According to Sanders, Isaac Royall Jr., who was the first endowed professor of law at Harvard, relied on the slaves on his plantation in Antigua when establishing Harvard Law School. Sanders recommended these reparations come in the form of annual scholarships for Antiguans and Barbudans.[30]

In 2012, Jamaica revived its reparations commission, to consider the question of whether the country should seek an apology or reparations from Britain for its role in the slave trade.[18] The opposition cited Britain's role in the end of the slave trade as a reason that Britain should issue no reparations.

Also in 2012, the Barbados government established a twelve-member Reparations Task Force, to be responsible for sustaining the local, regional and international momentum for reparations.[31][32] Barbados is reportedly "currently leading the way in calling for reparations from former colonial powers for the injustices suffered by slaves and their families."[33]

In 2013, in the first of a series of lectures in Georgetown, Guyana, to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the 1763 Berbice Slave Revolt, Principal of the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies, Sir Hilary Beckles urged Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries to emulate the position adopted by the Jews who were persecuted during the Second World War and have since organized a Jewish reparations fund.[34][35]

CARICOM Reparations Commission[edit]

Following Sir Hilary Beckles's advice, the CARICOM Reparations Commission (CRC) was created in September 2013. In 2014, 15 Caribbean nations unveiled the "CARICOM Ten Point Plan for Reparatory Justice" which spelled out demands for reparations from Europe "...for the enduring suffering inflicted by the Atlantic slave trade".[36] Among these demands were formal apologies from all nations involved (as opposed to "statements of regret"), repatriation of displaced Africans to their homeland, programs to help Africans learn about and share their histories, and institutions to improve slavery descendants' literacy, physical health, and psychological health.[37]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "United States of America 1789 (rev. 1992)". Constitute Project.
  2. ^ King, Wilma (2004). "Slavery, United States". Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood: In History and Society. 3: 757–758 – via GVRL.
  3. ^ Cong. John Connyers. My Reparations Bill – HR 40., Institute of the Black World.
  4. ^ 114th Congress (2016). "All Bill Information for H.R.40 - Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act". Congress.Gov.
  5. ^ Coates, Ta-Nehisi (June 2014). "The Case for Reparations". The Atlantic.
  6. ^ "Report of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent on its mission to the United States of America" (PDF). US Human Rights Network. August 18, 2016.
  7. ^ Robinson, Randall (1999). "He Drove the First U.S Stake in South African Apartheid". Journal of Blacks in Higher Education. 24: 58.
  8. ^ a b "Six White Congressmen Endorse Reparations for Slavery". The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education (27): 20–21. 2000-01-01. doi:10.2307/2678973. JSTOR 2678973.
  9. ^ a b Horowitz, David (2001-01-01). "David Horowitz's "Ten Reasons Why Reparations for Slavery is a Bad Idea for Blacks – and Racist Too"". The Black Scholar. 31 (2): 48–48. JSTOR 41068938.
  10. ^ "FrontPage Magazine - Reparations for Oppression?". Retrieved 2017-03-13.
  11. ^ Fisher, Max. "Henry Louis Gates Sets Off Slavery Reparations Debate". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2017-03-13.
  12. ^ a b Williamson, Kevin D. (May 24, 2014). "The Case Against Reparations". National Review.
  13. ^ a b c From, David (June 3, 2014). "The Impossibility of Reparations". The Atlantic.
  14. ^ Moore, Peter (June 2, 2014). "Overwhelming Opposition to Reparations for Slavery and Jim Crow". YouGov.
  15. ^ "Slave descendents file $1 billion lawsuit against companies with alleged ties to slave trade". Jet. 150 (17): 36–37. 2004.
  16. ^ Walsh, Conal (27 March 2004). "Slave descendants sue Lloyd's for billions". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2017-03-14.
  17. ^ Stamp, Gavin (20 March 2007). "BBC NEWS | Business | Counting the cost of the slave trade". Retrieved 2017-03-14.
  18. ^ a b "Jamaicans Form Commission to Investigate Slavery Reparations from Britain". Associated Press. 1 November 2012.
  19. ^ "Blair 'sorrow' over slave trade". BBC News, 27 November 2006. Accessed 15 March 2007.
  20. ^ "Blair 'sorry' for UK slavery role". BBC News, 14 March 2007. Accessed 15 March 2007.
  21. ^ "Livingstone breaks down in tears at slave trade memorial". Daily Mail, 24 August 2007. Accessed 22 July 2009.
  22. ^ Muir, Hugh (24 August 2007). "Livingstone weeps as he apologises for slavery". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 July 2014.
  23. ^ "Africa Trillions demanded in slavery reparations". BBC. August 20, 1999.
  24. ^ Howard-Hassmann, Rhoda E. (2004-01-01). "Reparations to Africa and the Group of Eminent Persons (Les réparations pour l'Afrique et le Groupe de personnalités éminentes)". Cahiers d'Études Africaines. 44 (173/174): 81–97. JSTOR 4393370.
  25. ^ Diadie, Ba (11 August 2001). "Senegal's Wade Calls Slave Reparations Absurd". Independent Online.
  26. ^ Howard-Hassmann, Rhoda E. (2007-01-01). "Reparations for the Slave Trade: Rhetoric, Law, History and Political Realities". Canadian Journal of African Studies / Revue Canadienne des Études Africaines. 41 (3): 427–454. JSTOR 40380098.
  27. ^ a b " - Guyana calls for reparations".
  28. ^ "Establishment of the Reparations Committee of Guyana". Parliament of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana.
  29. ^ Section, United Nations News Service (24 September 2011). "UN News - Reparations should be made for African slave trade, Antigua and Barbuda tells UN".
  30. ^ Anders, Wendy (October 24, 2016). "Antigua and Barbuda Asks Harvard University for Slavery Reparations". The Costa Rica Star.
  31. ^ "Barbados Takes Lead in Fight For Reparations for Slavery in the Caribbean", Atlanta Black Star, November 6, 2012.
  32. ^ Patrick Hunter, "CARICOM and reparations for slavery", Share, 20 February 2013.
  33. ^ Sanchez Manning, "Britain's colonial shame: Slave-owners given huge payouts after abolition", The Independent, 24 February 2013.
  34. ^ "UWI principal wants CARICOM to seek reparation for slavery", Jamaica Observer, 12 February 2013.
  35. ^ Rony Best, "The Case for Reparations", The New York Carib News, 6 March 2013.
  36. ^ Pilkington, Ed (March 9, 2014). "Caribbean nations prepare demand for slavery reparations". The Guardian.
  37. ^ "Reparations for Native Genocide And Slavery". CARICOM. October 13, 2015.

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