The Case For Black Reparations -- Transcript



MR. ROBINSON: Thank you for coming and joining with us this morning at this important discussion. This discussion will be taped by C-SPAN for broadcast. So when we get that time and date of broadcast, we will notify you.

I'm going to call upon Congressman Conyers to make a five-minute presentation at the beginning of our discussion. Then I'm going to call upon Dr. Ron Walters to make a presentation, following Congressman Conyers. And then we will open up this to floor discussion.

In your package, is a resolution that was drafted for us by Robert Westley, who is here, a professor at Tulane Law School. Robert Westley is the author of an important article that appeared last summer in the Boston College Law Review. The article is entitled "Many Billions Gone: The Case for Black Reparations."

And this resolution is in draft form right now. We would welcome your comments. You might note those to us, and we will look at that at the end of the discussion. We're going to ask that when we are done to circulate that resolution to city councils and other elected bodies around the country for endorsement and embrace, if not introduction for formal adoption at the local levels around the country.

So please take some time to read that resolution, and indicate your comments on that to us so we will have that at the end of the meeting.

I'm going to make a brief statement that will formally begin our meeting. Then I will recognize our two speakers. And then we will open it to the floor.

MR. ROBINSON: With that, I will proceed. On behalf of Edward Lewis, Chairman of TransAfrica Forum, who could not be with us this morning, William Lucy, Chairman of TransAfrica, TransAfrica Forum board members James Davis and Charles Ogletree, TransAfrica board members Dorothy Height and Wade Henderson, I would like to begin by expressing appreciation to our guests this morning.

We have assembled here to discuss the case for black reparations. In doing so, we will try to remain faithful to the millions of blacks who remain economically and socially disabled by the long, cruel promise of American slavery and the century of government-embraced racial discrimination that followed it, to the black men in prison, who in a fairer society might have realized their fullest potential, to the impoverished black mothers, too often alone and hopeless beneath their burdens, to black children, who all too frequently enter school with not even a chance of long-term success, these are the contemporary victims of America's Holocaust.

The enslavement of blacks in America lasted 246 years. It was followed by a century of legal racial segregation and discrimination. The two periods, taken together, constitute the longest running crime against humanity in the world over the last 500 years. Fifteen to twenty-five million Africans were killed in the Middle Passage alone.

African social and economic institutions were destroyed. Languages, religions, customs were extinguished. Whole cultures were lost. All memory of Africa's greatness in antiquity, the source civilizations of Western civilization, were stripped from the consciousness of slavery's direct and derivative contemporary victims.

As a result of the ravages of slavery and the racial strictures that followed it, blacks in America were consigned to this Nation's economic bottom. A yawning gap was opened. It has been a static gap since the Emancipation Proclamation. This condition can no longer be tolerated. We're here today to discuss this gap and the lasting social penalties of slavery and how they might be addressed once and for all.

Joining us in this discussion about the case for black reparations are: Adjoa Aiyetoro, Chief Counsel Consultant, National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (N'COBRA); Richard America, Lecturer, Georgetown University, McDonough School of Business; Alfred Brophy, Professor of Law, Oklahoma City University; Janell Byrd-Chichester, Associate Counsel, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund; The Honorable John Conyers, Democrat, 14th District of the State of Michigan; James Davis, the Dupont Comprehensive Health Care Center; Mr. William Fletcher, Assistant to the President of the AFL-CIO; Ibrahim Gassama, Professor of Law, University of Oregon School of Law; Dorothy Height, Chair, Board of Directors, the National Council of Negro Women; Wade Henderson, Executive Director, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights; Charles Lawrence, Professor of Law, Georgetown University Law Center; William Lucy, International Secretary-Treasurer, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; Michael Marshall, President, Michael Marshall Architecture; Mari Matsuda, Professor of Law, Georgetown University Law Center; Ali Mazrui, Director, Institute of Global Justice, Binghamton University; Charles Ogletree, Professor of Law, Harvard University School of Law; Hazel Ross-Robinson, President, Ross-Robinson & Associates; Ronald Walters, Distinguished Leadership Scholar, James MacGregor Burns Academy of Leadership, University of Maryland; Robert Westley, Professor of Law, Tulane University Law School; Jack White, National Correspondent, Time Magazine; Eric Yamamoto, Professor of Law, University of Hawaii Law School; and Selena Mendy Singleton, Senior Policy Advisor, TransAfrica Forum. We thank you.

Now, I'd like to call upon Congressman John Conyers, a Detroit Democrat, who was elected in 1998 to his 18th term in the U.S. House of Representatives. He was first elected in 1965. He is the second most senior member of the House of Representatives, and was reelected by his congressional colleagues to remain the first African-American Democratic leader of the House Committee on the Judiciary.

Mr. Conyers is also a founding member and the dean of the Congressional Black Caucus. His home district is the City of Detroit. Welcome, Congressman Conyers.


CONGRESSMAN CONYERS: Thank you, Randall Robinson, and to all of the distinguished scholars, lawyers, activists, leaders. I'm honored to be here and to begin the discussion.

Let me observe that this is one of the most important forums that I've had the pleasure of attending to discuss the question of reparations relative to African Americans. And the fact that I'm seeing many new faces is also a very important sign of hope that we will begin to deal with what is, first and foremost, fundamental in any kind of a political notion in a democratic.

That is, that there is a form of discussion about it. That there is some education about it. That it reaches into the national discourse and begins to take on a body of its own reason and intelligence and debate.

Now, the first thing that I should do is observe why that may not have happened in the case of reparations. And the reason, of course, is that this is the subject that at the national level nobody wants to talk about. This is America's secret and, at the same time, most sensitive political problem of race that now comes together when we raise the question of reparations, that leads many people to move toward the door, to exit as quickly as they can.

And so as a member of the Judiciary Committee, the first African American on the House Judiciary Committee in its history, it became very clear that as we struggle with the questions of civil rights, affirmative action, and equality of opportunity, there must be some historical cognition on our part about the whole question of reparations.

After all, reparations, when you don't attach it to anybody in particular, is a term that's fairly well-known in the body politic. The problem comes when you raise it in relationship to the most sensitive question in America still unresolved -- the question of race. And so this feeds into the important idea that we begin to lift the subject up, turn it over, and talk about it.

Now, a number of years back, I thought I would address the problem by putting into the Congress a House resolution that would merely call for us to engage in a discussion at the Federal legislative level. That is, that without putting in a reparations plan or moving forward with a specific remedy or solution for reparations, it occurred to me that we ought to, first of all, engage in a study, a search for the most understanding that we could possibly put together to determine where we are in terms of the facts, the law, the precedence, the history and the present moment in which the lingering effects of slavery give rise to the whole question of reparations.

After all, in the Congress, we deal with reparations almost annually. How many of us need to know that we've just come through with yet another reparations scheme? We've supported the Japanese quest for reparations. There have been attempts at reparations around the country -- Rosewood and others.

And yet we have never had any dialogue at a national level. Candidates run from the subject. But this is a subject that cannot historically let slip through the cracks as we struggle with where we are now in our efforts to make America a true democracy.

And I just would like to bring to your attention to the similarities between developments in the late 19th century with developments in the late 20th century. The fact of the matter is that many unequal racial/political schemes are being advanced now and we're beginning to lose the emphasis from what has been termed the second Reconstruction, in terms of the Civil Rights/Voting Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965. And we now are in a struggle to maintain and keep what we thought was going to be a plateau to move forward into the future.

And so we face the 21st century in a bit of a quandary. It makes this coming together more important than ever. And may I say that this isn't just for the descendants of slaves. This is something that the Nation has to undertake. This is a national responsibility that we are continuing to initiate the discussion on, which is growing.

The City of Dallas recently passed a resolution and wants a lot of us to come there and support them. The organizations that support reparations are growing.

So I would like to leave you with the notion that there are many ways that this discussion can be brought forward. And because of the United States' increasing power, the only superpower in the world because of our adherence to a Constitution that we promote all over the country, because of our own self-professed rhetoric for democratic ideals, this leaves us in a great position to advance this discussion both inside the United States at the highest levels, but also in the world.

I do not want to, for a minute, leave out the fact that there are other forums that are very anxious to hear about this, starting with the United Nations and many others. And so we gather here today to begin to do what has been suggested in this, the only bill dealing with this subject that I've run into, and try to fashion a way to have hearings, not just among a commission that would be appointed because of their skill and ability, but also hearings around the country.

In other words, it would take the President's dialogue on race into real time, because they carefully excluded this subject. But what we're doing is saying, look America, look citizens, if you believe in the rhetoric that has moved us from where we were in the late 19th century to now, we've got to look at how we can become whole as a nation, as a people, and to those descendants who have contributed so much.

The book The Debt by Randall Robinson was an important new addition. Richard America, I know, is writing yet another book on this subject. And there are more and more examinations of this going on to which we will hopefully spur others to begin to examine it.

And I am thrilled that out of this growing mountain of despair we can represent ourselves as an island of hope, to keep people focused not on wild-eyed schemes, but on what we need to do to make this country real and to make democracy a reality for all of our citizens within it. Thank you very much.

MR. ROBINSON: Thank you, Congressman. Dr. Walters.


DR. WALTERS: I am honored to be here today in this distinguished company to once again support Randall Robinson as he steps out on the stage on, I must say, the limb of history to bring a very important issue not only to our community but to the American people. And in doing so, I want to also say that I stand in support of many of those people, like Congressman Conyers, who has been on this issue for such a long time, organizations like N'COBRA, and scholars like Dick America, who have given a lot of their time and attention to this issue, laboring in the vineyard, unnoticed by many sectors not only of our own community but of the Nation. And we thank Randall for having brought us to this table, to this point.

I have a few prepared remarks. And I want to begin. Inevitably, some of them will cover one or two of the same points that the Congressman just made.

We're in a period where we are told that morality and ethics are the key to civil virtue. Well, one of those most immoral acts of the development of the United States of America has been the enslavement of the Africans. This immorality has been compounded by the modern failure to acknowledge that the grandeur of this country was based in substantial part upon the monumental resources made possible by African labor.

This failure to acknowledge that fact is an act bereft of virtue, which is the basis of modern racial subordination, and which fosters such cynicism and alienation that it prevents the acceptance full faith of the institutionalized version of the American dream. It is the basis of the differential acceptance of the O.J. verdict by blacks and whites, the Los Angeles rebellions after the Rodney King verdict, and other racially charged incidents, and gives evidence of the sleeping, seething consciousness of history of slavery, and it's linked to the modern dehumanization of black people.

We've just completed a so-called race dialogue, which failed to capture the imagination of the American people because, on the one hand, of the desperate attempts of some to deny and suppress the modern force of the slave origins of American history, American wealth and the American debt to the African.

And even where American complicity is admitted in the public discourse, there is an attempt to attribute more blame to African complicity in the slave trade, and thus continue to blame the victim and erect psychological barriers to the acceptance of any responsibility. Contrast this modern flight from responsibility to the words of William Pitt, the Younger, head of state at the moment that the English Parliament was getting rid of the slave trade. He said, and I quote:

"I, therefore, congratulate this house, the country and the world, that this great point is gained, that we may now consider this trade as having received its condemnation, that its sentence is sealed, that this curse of mankind is seen by the house in its true light, and that the greatest stigma in our national character which ever yet existed is about to be removed. And sir, which is still more important, that mankind, I trust, in general, are now likely to be delivered from the greatest practical evil that has ever afflicted the human race from the severest and most extensive calamity recorded in the history of the world."

William Pitt, the Younger, had no flight from reality when he uttered those words. On the other hand, the voice of those who were the objects of the slave trade were not heard on this issue. And so, to this extent, it was an incomplete race dialogue in the English Parliament and in America of the 1990's.

If only we had been allowed to speak, we would have made it plain that the fact that American history regards us as slaves, but that that identity, bereft of humanity, lacking dignity, has contributed to the wanton suppression and degradation which is a carryover from the period of slavery and still haunts us today.

So we still have the burden of throwing off the slave identity of the past. To do so, we must understand the other side of the dialogue, which is that the so-called slave was an enslaved African. That is to say that within the objective condition imposed upon them, they always considered themselves possessed of all of the human virtues and due all of the human treatments. Examples of this abound in the slave narratives and in the memories of those whose ancestors experienced that condition.

Second, we are also in an era when there is much talk of responsibility. Yet there is a reluctance to acknowledge the culpability of the state in administering the past slave status of African Americans. Thus, they have sought to escape an American dialogue about this issue.

We have come some way toward acknowledging both sides of this dialogue about slavery, toward acknowledging that the slave is also a human being, even a citizen, with entitlement rights of citizenship. And so we are on the road to making a dialogue about slavery, not merely an internal dialogue among black people, but a discussion among American people.

There is a deep understanding among the Africans in America today that a substantial part of the social distance between blacks and whites was created by the process of enslavement, not the persistent, even current, attempts to accord this to the lack of natural inferiority that had been written about in the so-called Bell Curve. And so we must make the dialogue among African Americans an American dialogue which truly gives national legitimacy to the identity of black people as African Americans, an identify with equal force visited upon both factors.

It has been said that the key to full black participation in American life is not the passage of laws, but social acceptance. But there is also a sense that this acceptance must begin with the acknowledgement of the role of the dominant culture in the crime of slavery, and the equal crime of pretending that the gap between Africans and others is a natural condition rather than a product of his or her enslavement.

DuBois noted in his study, the Philadelphia Negro, and I'm quoting:

"Everywhere slavery was accompanied by pauperization that this condition of black poverty prevented blacks from establishing a stable black middle-class when wave upon wave of migrants in the South overwhelmed the fledgling black elite and defined the condition of the black urban ghetto for decades and decades to come."

Thus, DuBois found that pauperization created the social conditions for crime, the lack of wealth and poverty, poor health, educational gaps, family social disorganization, high unemployment rates, and others. These conditions marked the genesis of the character of the black urban ghetto, and the institutions within it have been mystified.

But slavery is responsible for having robbed us of the resources necessary to acquire the cultural tools of the dominant group and afford us to attend the schools that would have long ago closed any cultural gap in test scores, that would have prevented us from allowing blacks to develop companies equal to the AT&T's or the Morgan-Stanley's, to institutionalize a private economy which would have provided a safety net for the black community. And so we would have been able to fund our own economic and political empowerment as the basis of our independent self-determination within the institutions of American culture.

So without a proper discussion of slavery and its modern manifestations, we have allowed the mystification of the reasons for black progress and white responsibility. The issue of reparations has represented a singular illustration of how American racism works, because we have denied the complicity of government.

I refer to the responsibility of government as the main authority figures at arranging recompense for slavery, because at every stage, Americans were permitted to practice slavery by writ of law, even before there was an America, by each of the Colonial territories. But certainly the Constitutional Congress and the successive acts of the Supreme Court, the Congress, and State governments defined the limits of slavery. So as much as individuals are sensitive to the demand for reparations out of their own moral culpability for slavery, it is a basic responsibility for government.

The rationale has been given that reparations for American Jews and Asians was a consequence of events which occurred during World War II, nearly 50 years ago. However, it is one of the myths of American history and its historians that slavery ended in 1865.

In fact, although slavery ended legally, the prison system was expanded in the South and utilized to administer the convict lease system, merely another form of slavery or worse than the former. And this system existed, with the older form of slavery, in various places throughout the South, the records of the Justice Department tell us, 'til as late at 1950.

Finally, a great tragedy of the denial of the full measure of responsibility for slavery is that Americans will never really completely understand who they are. Their identity as Americans is bereft without a full and complete understanding of the slave basis of the modern state. If they choose a selective understanding of this history as the basis of their American identity, then omitted facts will continually complicate their understanding of the present.

If their understanding is not selective, then they will understand the justice of reparations and why such measures as affirmative action, civil rights and other half measures pale in significance to the massive transfer of power and resources accomplished by slavery and which were never restored. Thank you.

MR. ROBINSON: Thank you, Dr. Walters. As I invite your interventions, I'd like to call upon Professor Westley to make a few comments about the themes of his piece "Many Billions Gone" as a legal foundation for a claim for reparations and the economic consequences of slavery and the century that followed it to African Americans. Professor Westley.


DR. WESTLEY: I think it's important to understand that the reparations movement that is occurring right now is occurring in a social and political context in which there is a massive attack on affirmative action as a social remedy for discrimination. And that attack happens at every level, including the Supreme Court.

So to the extent that affirmative action has been seen as a kind of substitute for an engagement with the issue of reparations or the need for reparations, we can see that America has now reached a point where it feels that everything is equal and that there should be no consideration of race in the government. And the Supreme Court has made it quite clear that, in its equality jurisprudence, race is a suspect category.

And as a suspect category, it cannot be considered without a compelling stated reason. And under that form of jurisprudence, it has said that affirmative action programs are suspect and subject to strict scrutiny.

And across the country, and in particular I think right now, of the Hopwood case in Texas, this has affected access to education, higher education, and it has also affected access to employment and jobs for African Americans. And so I think it's very important to understand that the reparations movement is occurring in that context.

The movement attempts to shift the focus of the debate. The debate is not about maintenance of affirmative action, although I think that that is just. It's about changing the nature of the relationship between the subordinate groups within the United States and the dominant group within the United States. And it changes through a recognition that blacks in particular, but other racial groups as well, have never been treated justly, have never received compensation for the injustices that have been done.

And so, to the extent that we put forward the idea that it's now necessary to pay the debt, we re-raise the issue not only of the legitimacy of affirmative action but the illegitimacy of continuing the exploitation that has taken place throughout American history of subordinated racial groups in this country.

So that was my starting point in considering this issue. It was to re-raise it in order to change the nature of the debate on the issue of racial justice and racial remediation, given a time when the courts have now become hostile to these types of claims and the American people are suffering from amnesia or simply lack of knowledge about what the historical bases are for a claim of remediation.

MR. ROBINSON: Professor Yamamoto, let me call upon you. Professor Yamamoto.


PROFESSOR YAMAMOTO: Thank you for having me here. I'm truly honored to be participating with everyone here.

I speak to urge enhanced ties between the Japanese American and African American communities. Representative Conyers and Mr. Walters spoke about Japanese American redress and about an American dialogue on African American reparations. And Professor Matsuda and I have written extensively about Japanese American redress. And there are some substantial lessons to be drawn, both good and bad, from the Japanese American redress process. And I think it's something that can be studied and talked about in a very productive way.

The Japanese American redress process was three pronged. There was a congressional commission very similar to that proposed by Representative Conyers. It gave people an opportunity to tell their stories to the public in a very powerful, concentrated way. It provided foundational research.

There was also extensive legislative lobbying which was multiracial. African Americans were very crucial in that effort.

And third, there were legal efforts. And I was a member of the legal team re-opening the Japanese American internment cases from World War II based on newly discovered evidence showing there was no evidence of necessity for the internment. I was a member of that team and saw the power of that three-pronged approach.

What many of us have been doing lately is working with the Japanese American community, speaking to and writing for the community, saying, look, you've got reparations and it's time and important now for our community to interact, to connect with its African American community, to provide support.

And I'm here to urge the African American community to reach back and to say, now it's time for us to interact in a mutually beneficial, productive way, whether it's at a forum, whether it's at meetings like this, in all kinds of very important ways. And I think there's a lot to be gained both ways. Thank you.

MR. ROBINSON: Professor Mazrui.


DR. MAZRUI: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I also happen to be a member of an organization which was set up by the Organization of African Unity, specifically entrusted to enter into the business of exploring the logistics of crusading for reparations for African peoples worldwide. The OAU called it a group of eminent persons, and we were shown before the summit conference of the Organization of African Unity in Dakar in 1982.

At that time, the representative from the United States who came to meet with us was in fact Jesse Jackson, who was in Dakar at the time. Nelson Mandela was not President, but he came to give us moral support. Our chair, whom we elected ourselves, was Chief Mushuda Bula, who was later elected President of Nigeria but, for his sins, was imprisoned by the soldiers and died in military custody. The co-chair was Mahtar M'Bow, who was former Director-General of UNESCO. And among the other members is former First Lady of both Mozambique and South Africa, Mrs. Graciel Mandela, and gifted, talented singer Miriam Makeba, and a number of professors and ambassadors. There were 12 of us in all.

In substance, let me just tell you a couple of things that we were beginning to enter into when our chair entered into presidential politics and we were basically incapacitated.

One was, how do we assess the damage for reparations? Do we do it on the basis of damage to African people? Or do we do it on the basis of gain to economies which formerly used slave labor? So do you do it by benefit to recipients or do you do it by damage to African people?

On the damage to African people, we were all convinced it is not a thing of the past; it's continuing today, in jails, in death rows, in instability, in current pain, not just history.

And the other issue we were beginning to examine was, what form should the reparations take? And we were entering into three methods. One, capital transfer. That is, the actual exchange of money, although we hadn't decided on whom this burden should be imposed.

Secondly, skill transfer, that we really demand a major transformation that would change the damage done to the talents and skills of African peoples by enslavement and colonization. And therefore, we have a global structure of skill repair.

And thirdly, empowerment, empowerment which would include giving out of proportion power to institutions which affect black people. In the case of Africa, this includes out of proportion influence on the World Bank, for example, and giving it permanent representation on the National Security Council, including veto power.

So these were forms of reparations that were not capital, but amounted to influence and leverage over organizations that do exercise power on black people today. I thought I would put that on the table just to brief the meeting in relation to the Organization of African Unity's interest in this theme. Their interest is global, including of course the fate of our brothers and sisters in this country.

MR. ROBINSON: Thank you, Professor. I should add a couple of notes. We've been joined by the Chair of TransAfrica, Mr. William Lucy. And I want to direct you, as well, at the end of our meeting, to the small room off to our right, where you will see displayed a scale model of the African-American Slavery Museum that has been designed by one of this country's leading architects, Michael Marshall, who is with us this morning, as well.

I would now like to recognize Professor Charles Ogletree.


PROFESSOR OGLETREE: Thank you, Randall. I will be brief.

First, I want to say that I'm not at all surprised that you and TransAfrica Forum have taken the lead on this important issue of reparations. It was TransAfrica Forum who, in the eighties, went against the political grain and started national demonstrations and arrests to highlight the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela, and eventually led to sanctions and his release and election as President.

And in the 1990's, you took the courageous position of supporting change in Haiti that was prominent. And it wasn't because of popular appeal or political favor, it was moral courage. And I'm so pleased to see TransAfrica Forum again in the lead in perhaps the most important issue of the 21st century.

To put it in context, I just wanted to briefly say that W.E.B. DuBois did remind us that the problem of the 20th century was the problem of the color line. And if I were to look at the 19th century, I would say it was the problem of Jim Crowism and Plessey v. Ferguson,, where we were treated separate but never equal.

And the 18th century was a time of slavery flourishing in America, but African Americans in no way prospering. The 21st century, in my view, is time for payback. And I don't say that as a threat, but as a promise, that America holds out the promise that those who have labored should receive some gains.

And I also say that in the context of what Professor Westley and others have written. It's not a stretched argument. It's a very reasonable and measured argument.

The first thing that our court said when it came into existence a couple of hundred years ago was that we are a nation of laws and not of men, and that those laws carry both legal and moral courage behind them. As a result of that, I think that looking at what has happened to African Americans and Africans makes a strong case for reparations.

I would actually follow on Dr. Mazrui's words and say that I think our argument is not ambitious enough. Most of the people who have argued for reparations talk about the plight of black Americans, as if we were there only to suffer and the only deserving class to benefit from slavery and for reparations. But hundreds of millions of Africans suffered, and I think continue to suffer.

And I think, if we are looking for support for the argument, families, displaced, women raped, leaders murdered, villages pillaged, there was never more destruction. We think of it as an economic issue; it was a criminal issue what happened to the millions of Africans who were forcibly removed from their land.

And then we come to America, and the Statue of Liberty is symbolic of our sense of, you know, bring us your sick, your tired, your huddled masses, all those people came, opposing persecution and looking for new opportunities, but not Africans. They were forcibly brought here.

And I hope that as much as we support H.R. 40, Congressman Conyers's bill, which is very important, and support the resolution that has been drafted, that we don't forget Africa and its critical role as the footnote, the people who were voiceless, faceless and powerless, who are the reminders.

We may not be able to directly say we have suffered in every case, but we cannot ignore the fact that Africa as a nation has greatly suffered. And I hope our reparations discussion isn't limited to our borders. It is global. It is worldwide. It is pervasive. It is as significant to Africa now as it was three centuries ago. And I hope that that will be part of our discussions, as well.

MR. ROBINSON: Adjoa Aiyetoro.


MS. AiYETORO: Thank you. I would like to first start in thanking Mr. Robinson, Randall Robinson, for not only his book but this forum. It's very, very important.

I'd like to also start by recognizing that this meeting builds on a movement for reparations that goes back to the time of enslavement, and to raise up the spirits of Cali House and Isaiah Dickerson, who were leaders in the reparations movement that led to the H.R. 40 of that day, that was vetoed by President Andrew Johnson, and so many others.

I'm here as a representative of two organizations, the primary one being the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America, that was co-founded by the National Conference of Black Lawyers, an organization that I directed, and at the time of its co-founding I was co-chair.

I have been a long-time activist in support of H.R. 40, but have worked with many of you here -- and some of you are new to this table, but I've worked with so many of you not only on this issue, but on issues pertaining to the liberation of African peoples in the United States and worldwide.

N'COBRA as an organization is a mass-based organization that is working for the winning of reparations. And one of the things that I wrote down as I was listening and sitting here is that it is imperative that we have a can-do and will-do attitude about reparations. We have to have that. It has been a long struggle, but so was the liberation of African peoples from chattel slavery. So, it's not something that should daunt us because of the length of the struggle.

There are three things that I just want to say very briefly about N'COBRA's theory around reparations and how we win it. One is building mass education and public education around this. We have done so by coming to some of your organizations.

Some of you know our faces -- maybe not mine particularly, but we have gotten resolutions from the National Bar Association, from Delta Sigma Theta, from Sigma Gamma Rho, and other groups, the NAACP, in support of H.R. 40, which raises the discussion.

We have gotten legislatures to introduce resolutions, one being the District of Columbia, the Michigan, both State and local. The other is in support of H.R. 40, the legislative struggle, but also it's a litigation strategy that I have spoken to some of you about.

I've spoken to some of you about it before today. I have spoken to some of you today, and will be speaking to some of you after today, about that. But I too have, as Brother Yamamoto said, a three-pronged approach. Because we have to push from every aspect. We can't just use one aspect. And N'COBRA is about doing that.

Lastly, in our annual conferences that we hold, and we will have one again this year, we have utilized people such as Congressman Conyers, and he will be there this year, chairing one of our town meetings, in which we want to bring people such as you, such as Mr. Robinson and others, to come and talk about the importance of reparations.

And I want to end by saying reparations, as Congressman Conyers has said, is a national healing. It is not simply about paying us for the serious continuations of the vestiges of slavery that we can see and that Congressman Conyers, Mr. Robinson, Mr. Walters, and others have talked about, the dual criminal punishment system that continues to today, the wealth issues, the discrimination in employment, all of those things that are vestiges of slavery, but also the need to be able to end this continued divide that comes from not talking honestly about this issue, about putting on the back burner the real issue of the healing and the reparations for one of the greatest crimes against humanity that we can talk about today.

So I thank you again, Mr. Robinson, for this forum. And I thank each and every one of you for what you are doing and have done for reparations. And I know what you will do to win reparations.

MR. ROBINSON: Thank you very much. Professor Richard America, I thought you might take two minutes to put an economic frame around this discussion.


PROFESSOR AMERICA: Thank you, Mr. Robinson.

I am not an economist, a professional economist. I consider myself a policy analyst. But as a member of the national economic association we have, which is the National Organization of African-American Economists, for the last 15 years, we've sponsored sessions at each of our annual meetings on reparations, in which papers were presented that looked at the domestic case as well as the African case that Professor Mazrui mentioned, and South Africa. We have attempted to look at ways to measure the unjust enrichment in each of the three cases.

Supreme Court Justice Scalia at some point said that there is no debtor or creditor race. And I think he got it exactly wrong. And that is, in a nutshell, what the reparations argument will be up against. Second, I hope, that TransAfrica Forum, or some similar organization, will initiate an ongoing process of serious analysis and measurement. On the point of measurement, measurement gets us beyond rhetoric. A process of historical auditing is essential. Senator Patrick Moynihan, at one point, mentioned, in another context, that statisticians are key to social progress, because it's only when it's possible to measure a problem that you begin to get broad public interest in solving it. So an analysis has got to be the foundation and a process of serious, reliable, mainstream analysis needs to be established and go forward.

The government, through the Bureau of Labor Statistics or the Department of Treasury or the Congressional Budget Office, or any number of other organizations, could, on its own, do this. President Clinton, who wants to leave a legacy and is said to be looking for things to do in his final 12 months, could, with the stroke of a pen, set this process in motion. And I hope he and his advisors will consider that seriously.

A final point, and in some ways it's the initial point, Martin Luther King, in his famous speech that will be recited repeatedly in the next few weeks, before he got to the point about waters rolling down and a bright future for us all, talked about a promissory note in that same speech. And that is typically overlooked, but I believe that that captured the concept of reparations. And he was beginning to think in those terms.

So we are really carrying on work that has a basis in our history, and we are in a position to move forward with it. And this is a historic occasion. Thank you.

MR. ROBINSON: Thank you. Professor Matsuda, let me call upon you to make a remark or two.


PROFESSOR MATSUDA: I would like to echo others who have said it. It is an honor to be in this room. And I know there are people here who are heroes of the civil rights movement and the struggle for justice in this country.

I am going to try to make my points briefly, because there are so many people left to speak. So I wrote down three things I want to say. The first is to bring a historical footnote from the Japanese-American struggle for redress. And that is that every single political advisor who looked at the struggle in the beginning said it would not succeed.

And the people who were organizing the movement for redress really didn't believe it would succeed either. They felt at that time that it was important to have the struggle, and that the struggle alone would be worth the fight, even though it was not in the cards politically to win that struggle. And I think that's the history of the struggle for human rights and civil rights in this country -- that it never looks like you have a chance in the beginning, and you have to move forward anyway, and history may surprise you.

The second thing I would like to say is that I am a beneficiary of reparations, and in more ways than one. First of all, I'm a beneficiary of affirmative action. The opportunities that I have to speak as a law professor, to write, to teach, were made possible for me because of the civil rights movement, that said -- to echo Professor Ogletree -- that it's time for payback, that there are people who have been deliberately and systemically excluded from institutions of power, and we need to make an affirmative effort to bring them to the center.

Every single time I meet a stranger and tell them what I do, when I say I'm a law professor, they are surprised, unfailingly. Because someone who looks like me is not supposed to be a law professor. This is a social fact of life in America. And as long as that's true, we need programs like affirmative action, that are based in part on a theory of reparations, of making amends for historical wrongs that have constructed a present reality of what's possible.

In addition to being a beneficiary of affirmative action, I'm also a direct beneficiary of reparations in the sense that my father received a check, thanks to Congressman Conyers and others, who authorized the United States Government to make direct payments to individuals who were interned illegally during World War II.

My father was a native-born United States citizen. He was loyal to this government. He was loyal enough to be accepted for combat duty in the United States Army in World War II, but he was considered, because of his race, not loyal enough to live in California, and he was interned at Hard Mountain, Wyoming. And it meant so much to our family when he was able to receive that symbolic gesture that said a historical wrong occurred and we, as a nation, are going to right that wrong, in a way that could never make amends, but at least recognizes the wrong.

But in addition to my family receiving that benefit, I also received a benefit as a scholar. Because the reparations that were given to Japanese Americans were in two parts. One, individual payments to people who were interned and lost their rights of citizenship during the war.

But, secondly, a fund set up for scholarship and study in public information. And Professor Westley's wonderful article, which I would recommend to you, was funded in part by the Civil Liberties Public Education Fund. And my own research that went along with that symposium was funded by that Fund.

And this has had a lasting effect. It comes to the table today so that we continue to discuss and learn. It has reached out to students and to community groups. And I think that has been an important element of reparations for Japanese Americans that has benefitted the broader society.

But, finally, I would like to make the point that the struggle for reparations in the Japanese American community was important for the public health and mental health of that community. And I think that's just another reason why the African-American community needs to pursue this.

When people came forward at those hearings for the first time to talk about something that they had been silent about in their families, it opened the door for talking about a painful secret that in many families had never been discussed. And when there is pain, my friends in the mental health profession tell me, when there is harm, when there is trauma that is not discussed, it persists through generations.

And I think when we look at the African American community today, one of the puzzles that educators are struggling with is the under-performance. Why is it that black children are not succeeding at the level that they should and need to succeed at, in not just grades K through 12 but also at the college level? Even when there is some level of privilege in the family, we still see under-performance; why is that?

And I think part of the reason is that if you live in the world, as other people have said, where everyone acts as though we now have equality and there is no need for reparations, there is no need for payback, and you still have degraded conditions that African-Americans are living under, young children must come to the conclusion that something is wrong with them.

If everything is equal and black people are not achieving, then something must be wrong with them. And we need to change that message, because it's poisoning the opportunities for our children. And one way we change it is to put this discussion on the table and say, no, there has been a wrong. It's a 400-year-old wrong that is persisting today.

And as others have said, the structures of what it means to be black in this country have been tainted by our history of slavery. That mental health element I think is an important part of this struggle and an important reason to keep this fight alive. Thank you.

MR. ROBINSON: We have about eight minutes remaining. Wade Henderson, and then Dorothy Height.


PROFESSOR HENDERSON: Thank you, Randall. In fact, I should defer, actually, to Dr. Height, the Chairman of my board. Let me say good morning to all, and thank you, Randall, for hosting this meeting, which I think is extraordinarily important.

I'm honored to be here as Director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, which is the Nation's oldest and largest civil rights coalition. But I'm also honored to be here as a member of TransAfrica's Board, and as a Joseph Rauh Professor of Public Interest Law at the University of the District of Columbia Law School. Because as a civil rights lawyers, I think Joe Rauh, whose memory I serve, would be very proud of this conversation.

And I concur with those who have suggested that not only is this important to the African-American community, but to the Nation as a whole. And the breadth and reach of this debate will make a significant difference in the future of the country.

I think that what this discussion has helped to do today is to elevate the debate over reparations in a way that nothing recently has done. Adjoa Aiyetoro is absolutely correct that the movement to achieve reparations is of longstanding. And Representative Conyers, who has been a voice in the wilderness for many years, articulating the important principles at stake here, has only recently gained the traction of a national movement that this debate deserves.

What this discussion has done is to dispel the air of false illegitimacy which has surrounded the debate on reparations for African Americans in this country for really two reasons. One, it has been argued that the enactment of wartime amendments after the Civil War, the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution, paid any indebtedness owed to African Americans for the injustices they suffered under slavery. And, secondly, that the gap in time between the end of slavery and the current day makes it impossible to calculate any effective way what is the debt owed.

I think Professor Ogletree, Professor Westley and others have articulated the legal principle which governs this debate, which says that for every wrong there is a remedy, and that that remedy is not extinguished by time itself, particularly when the manifestations of the problem are current-day and visible to all. But the issue is, how do you establish that principle beyond a doubt?

What I think we have to do now is to distinguish between the debate itself over this issue and the actual remedy that we seek to achieve as a result of this debate. There is obviously great importance on the latter. And I am pleased that so many have focused attention on how we calculate the indebtedness. That must be done. But the debate itself will achieve many objectives that I think have already been alluded to by Professor Matsuda and others, in terms of benefit.

The last conclusion I would make is this. This is an especially propitious moment to pursue this debate. I think Professor Westley articulated the debate on the other side of this issue, which involves equal opportunity and the end of affirmative action. We have seen a widespread attack in the courts and at the grassroots level and in states now, like Florida, where the debate is now pending.

And bringing this issue to national attention and pressing political candidates to express their view over the legitimacy of having this debate will be an important step in helping to advance the agenda. H.R. 40, Representative Conyers' bill, is an important initiative, and it must be enacted.

And the time to bring that pressure to bear is right now, during the height of the political season, as all candidates are beginning to assert their views, both on matters of political principle and in a search for votes. Our leverage is as great as it has ever been within the context of political possibility, and now is the time to push the issue aggressively. Thank you.

MR. ROBINSON: Thank you, Mr. Henderson. Dr. Height.


DR. HEIGHT: First of all, I want to thank you and Congressman Conyers, who have initiated this, because I think TransAfrica Forum performs a real function for us.

As I sat here, I couldn't help but remember the six years that I served on the Holocaust Memorial Council. It was an educational experience. I thought that I had an understanding of people, but I learned so much. But the thing that came through to me was the role that our government took in making sure that in this country, that there would be this kind of memorial recognizing the Holocaust, the only one outside of Israel itself.

And it seems to me that we have an opportunity here to sure up understanding of the role of government. We will hear a lot about personal guilt. We have to help people move beyond that. I think it gives us a great opportunity to move beyond personal guilt to understand the role of government.

And the other point I want to make is that we have, in working on this, the opportunity to help present generations of African Americans, as well as others, understand who the slaves were. There is a way in which -- many times, it's spoken as if they were a lesser form of human being, and we need to highlight historically -- and I think our African friends can certainly help us with that -- the role that those who played in their own countries carried and the kinds of skills and talents and professionalism that they had.

And I think this is something that we need in our community. And I think the recent debate we've had about race would be greatly moved from a personal kind of discussion to an institutional consideration of racism, but also with the opportunity for some real education in a process that would bring itself.

MR. ROBINSON: First, let me thank you all for coming and participating in this rich discussion. Special thanks to Congressman Conyers for his presentation, to Dr. Walters for his. Indeed, for the contributions of you all.

It seems to me that our country has been in a state of somewhat massive denial. And while we have, since 1945, urged Germany to come to terms with its wrongs, recently culminating in the work of Stuart Eisenstadt, with other American official agencies urging German corporations to make compensation available to Jews who were injured during the Nazi Holocaust, watching that, it brought to mind something that Hazel Ross-Robinson called to my attention.

Ms. Ross-Robinson also happens to be my wife. She called something to my attention when I was writing the book that we will talk about tonight in a book signing here at the building. She urged me to come down to the Rotunda of the Capitol. I had been there. I worked there many years ago. And denial I think operates for the victims, as well.

And I came down. And she said, look up. And I looked up and saw a painting on the eye of the Rotunda. It's called the Apotheosis of George Washington. It represents to us all the ideals and objectives of American democracy. George Washington is surrounded by 60 robed figures, all of whom are white.

On the rim of the dome is a frieze that depicts American history, from the dawn of exploration to the age of aviation. No Douglass. No Truth. No Tubman. No blacks period. The entire era of slavery is unreflected in the Capitol.

Down at ground level, there are massive paintings, oil paintings set into huge stones. No blacks to be found anywhere.

Upon examination, I discovered that the stones were cut in Stafford County, Virginia, brought up the river, put into place by slaves, that the statue Freedom that sits atop the dome of the Capitol was cast, disassembled, reassembled, and hoisted to the top of the Capitol by slaves. The forests between the Capitol and the White House were cleared by slaves. But not a tablet, not a monument, not a museum exists to commemorate the victims of the American Holocaust.

And so this, for me, has been a most memorable discussion. For I think the result of it will be a breakthrough in this American denial of what it did and what it continues to do. And we can explain to our children perhaps once and persuasively what happened to them and what happened to us all.

I want to thank you all for coming. And I ask you to join us here tonight for the book signing that will be from 6:30 to 8:00, if you can. Please take a look at Michael Marshall's design in the next room.

We are told that the museum that will be erected on the Mall in the spring, the museum that will commemorate the role of the American Indian, will take up the last space on the Mall. We have to find a place for the museum that remembers the victims of the longest running human rights crime in the history of the world over the last 500 years. Thank you very much. Thank you.

(Whereupon, the forum concluded.)

Additional Information on Reparations Panel

Copyright © 2000 TransAfrica Forum

This page has been hit [an error occurred while processing this directive] times.