November 18, 2020

Yes to Reparations for Slavery

The NAACP San Diego Branch applauds Assemblywoman Weber’s proposal to create a commission to study reparations for the enslavement of more than 4 million Africans and their descendants from 1619 to 1865. As recognized by Weber’s Bill, AB3121, the true costs of slavery and the systematic racism that followed, continues to reverberate, denying African Americans economic prosperity, educational opportunities and the full panoply of rights guaranteed under the U.S. and California Constitution. 

As recognized by the United States with victims of the Holocaust, Japanese internment camps and Native American victims of “manifest destiny”, the United States has a moral and legal imperative to study not only how individual and corporate slaveowners wrongfully benefited from labor and lives of enslaved people, but to compensate for the economic and cultural damage caused by 400 years of systemic racism. These three historic examples of reparations can help us understand how to confront USA’s “original sin.”

In 2000, the US government (Clinton) signed a treaty whereby Germany agreed to set aside 10 billion Deutsche marks to compensate all United States victims of the Nazis. Both the German Government and German companies (most notably Deutsche Bank AG, Volkswagen, and BMW) contributed equally to a fund known as the “Remembrance, Responsibility, and the Future” Fund. Such treaty ended series of class action lawsuits known as the “In re Holocaust Victim Assets Litigation” to compensate Jews and non-Jews specifically for slave and forced labor they performed for German industry during the war. One of the lawsuits resulted in a $1.25 billion dollar settlement by Swiss Banks for victims of the Holocaust. Before the treaty was signed, President Bill Clinton established the “The Presidential Advisory Commission on Holocaust Assets in the United States,” to investigate U.S. assets acquired after 1933, and to determine whether any U.S. assets were originally the property of European Jews.

In 1988, the US government (Reagan) signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 which provided $20,000 in reparations (tax free) to the surviving victims of the Japanese Internment Camps. This bill paid nearly 62,000 surviving victims. Before the passage of this law, the US Congress created a special commission to examine the issue of reparations and recommended that compensation be paid, concluding that the evacuation order, based on war hysteria and racial prejudice, violated Japanese families’ Constitutional rights. 

In 1946, the US government passed the Indian Claims Act of 1946 to thank Native Americans for their military service in WWII. The US government created the “Indian Claims Commission” which allowed First Nation tribes to bring claims (such as takings of land) against the United States. By the time the Commission was adjourned in 1978, the US Government awarded $818,172,606.64 in claims. 

The government should study reparations for the enslavement of African Americans.  Reparations are not only moral imperative but can also be justified under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution:

“All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law, deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protections of the laws.” 

While the 14th Amendment was not ratified until five years after the Emancipation Proclamation and three years after the 13th Amendment abolished slavery, it precepts are still applicable today.  African Americans were wrongfully deprived of their life, liberty and property by a cruel and inhumane institution.  It is now time to restore, the extent practicable, such life, liberty and property that was wrongfully taken by slavery. 

Undoubtedly, there will be pushback from those who do not understand or refuse to recognize the unjust enrichment that slavery provided to the Nation.  But, we must overcome such prejudice and attempt to repair our Nation’s “original sin.”  Creating a task force to study reparations is an important first step that was taken both by President Reagan and Clinton. The NAACP San Diego Branch will continue to support Dr. Weber’s efforts in Sacramento to heal our Nation. 

Legal Redress Committee
NAACP San Diego Branch