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I like some poetry in my justice, it serves as witness that what is being rendered is just.  The concept of Indian casinos, for instance.  There's something that  strikes me as just right about the idea that Native Americans should have a special opportunity to sell alcohol and games of chance to whites.

I came to that conclusion perhaps 20 years ago, and I've often considered since how that principle could be formalized to be used to make reparation to African-Americans for the stolen wealth created by the labor of slaves.  I've often thought that the solution would lie with the modern successor entities to the enterprises built upon the backs of slaves in industries like tobacco, cotton, sugar and rail.  

It appears some in the NAACP are moving toward adopting this approach.  

This article in the Moonie Times has the
rightwing blogosphere all aflutter today (Google NAACP business reparations.)

The NAACP will target private companies as part of its economic agenda, seeking reparations from corporations with historical ties to slavery and boycotting companies that refuse to participate in its annual business diversity report card.
    "Absolutely, we will be pursuing reparations from companies that have historical ties to slavery and engaging all parties to come to the table," Dennis C. Hayes, interim president and chief executive officer of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said yesterday at the group's 96th annual convention here.
    "Many of the problems we have now including poverty, disparities in health care and incarcerations can be directly tied to slavery."
    The group's strategy will include a lobbying effort to encourage cities to enact laws requiring businesses to complete an extensive slavery study and submit it to the city before they can get a city contract.

A few major cities have adopted regulations requiring corporations disclose historic ties to slavery:

[Two] banks trying to do business with Chicago have recently apologized for their role in slavery and promised to make amends by offering scholarships to blacks and money for other education projects that benefit blacks.
    J.P. Morgan Chase Bank recently completed an examination of its history and found that two financial institutions it absorbed years ago -- Citizens Bank and Canal Bank in Louisiana -- had owned more than 1,250 black people until the Civil War, procured as collateral on defaulted loans.
    The company apologized and officials said it will start a $5 million scholarship program for children in Louisiana.
    Wachovia Corp. was accused by a Chicago alderman of lying last month when it submitted its statement in January stating it had no knowledge of any involvement with slavery. The Charlotte, N.C.-based company later apologized and indicated that it would create an education fund or contribute money toward black history education.

Its interesting to see these first steps in this direction.  The point of conflict on the issue of reparations has been the competing demands of restitution for that which was taken on the one hand, while the principle of individual responsibility holds that  those who have done no wrong should not be penalized.  This is why in my ruminations on this idea over the years have led me to the conclusion that the form that restitution should take should be in the form of capital stock in the successor corporations to the exploiters of the slavery era.  After all, what is capital but the concretized expression of past labor?  Thus I feel that reparations activists would find the ends of justice served better through aiming for acquisition of capital interests than merely shaking a few millions loose from current cash-flow.

Cross-posted from Liberal Street Fighter

Originally posted to Dancing Larry on Sat Jul 16, 2005 at 06:14 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  As you no doubt know ... (4.00)
    ...many of us Indians are conflicted about casinos. But I don't quite understand why so many Americans are conflicted about slave reparations.

    "The President wanted to go into Iraq in the worst possible way. And he did." -- Nancy Pelosi

    by Meteor Blades on Sat Jul 16, 2005 at 01:17:09 PM PDT

    •  it's the whole (none)
      "why should I have to pay for what another generation did?" thing ...
      •  Yup (4.00)
        And that's just why I like the idea of going after a capital stake.  That judges no current person guilty, nor strips anyone of what they have honestly and honorably accrued.  If say a corporation has to issue, just off the top of my head, another 10% of common stock, OK, investors will see a softening of their market value--but not that much more than an underperforming quarter would.  But only investors, who need to understand that there are always risks in investment, will take any loss in book and market value.  Just about every corporation carries an intangible asset called "goodwill" or something of the sort on its books, which bolsters book value.  The legacy of slavery can easily be seen as a previously unrecognized contingent liability against that asset of "goodwill," a liability that came due.  (Can you tell my degree's in accounting?)    
    •  Simple (4.00)
      If they admit that reparations are needed they have to admit that America did something wrong. There is a huge emotional stake--especially in the South where they want to believe slavery wasn't all that bad and the Civil War wasn;t about slavery--to just avoid the whole issue. Americans know we had a problem with slavery but that was all worked out a long time ago, right?

      What most Americans don't realize is that slavery is written into our Constitution and was perhaps the number one most controverisal issue facing America throughout its history. We still haven't escaped its shadow. We don't want to face up to it because it means we have to admit America wasn't perfect when it was founded.

    •  MB (none)
      I realize there are a range of attitudes among Indians on the whole casino question.  On that level I'm neither pro nor con, as it is after all not my beeswax, and I'm not a gambling man.  I just find it duly fitting that as I said, Native Americans get a special opportunity to ply the white man with his own vices that played such a huge role in America's ethnic cleansing.  (Full disclosure:  I have been to the Mohegan casino several times for WNBA Connecticut Sun games, and I do have a soft spot for them in bringing the WNBA to the home of the best women's basketball fans in America.)  

      But being a white man trying to talk about race, what I try to look for are ways to make good on what was done wrong without unduly burdening those with no personal involvement or particular benefit from historical injustices.  I like this approach as it singles out those that do particularly benefit for making restitution.  I know it's always shaky ground to address these things, and I'll probably end up getting torched by all sides, but hey, what good it is being a big mouth if you never use it to raise the tough issues?

  •  How will the reparations be dispersed? (none)
    This is a subject I do not know much about, so I am honestly just asking. I think it is a good idea in theory to try to make reparations, but I always wondered how one will qualify? Will you have to give documentation that your ancestors were slaves? Aren't many folks lacking that kind of documentation?

    Please don't tell me they will do it by skin color. That will never work.  

    •  Valid questions (none)
      I readily admit I don't have any answers for those.  Perhaps someone around dKos more familiar with the  history of this issue might be able to answer them.

      I simply feel strongly that there is a stolen legacy, and until the consequences of that historical crime are dealt with there can never be true reconciliation among Americans.  I've also recognized the validity of those who say, "I did not participate in this, I have gained no advantage from this, why should I pay?"  What this approach does is identifies those that do continue to gain an advantage from the ill-gotten gains.  It comes closer to justice on the restitution end than anything I have seen before on this issue.  What's a just distribution of that restitution is an entirely different issue, moral, social and political, and one which as I said I don't feel qualified to address.

      •  Going back in history and pointing (none)
        out which businesses profited, directly and indirectly from slavery is an interesting approach. The article in the Washington Post gave a few examples of companies/banks starting up scholarships, for example, or other philanthropic programs. This is really more of a "penance" than paying direct reparations. Maybe it is a good way to go.
  •  Interesting (none)
    diary.  I have heard reparations mentioned before, but I never understood how they would be collected or distributed.  Plus there are all kinds of fairness issues I struggle with...
  •  I am against reparations (none)
    If we give out reparations for slavery then we have to give reparations out to every ethnic group ever targeted or persecuted. And frankly then it would lead to massive bankruptcy and chaos.
    •  nope (4.00)
      only those companies who profited from slave labor. do you know of any companies who used non-black slave labor? the chinese laborers for the railroad got a pretty raw deal, but i'm fairly sure they were paid, if a pittance.

      i find the concern about bankruptcy funny, though, if companies really are so dependent on capital taken from slave labor that paying reparations would bankrupt them, you seem to be suggesting that our economy is wholly dependent on old slave capital. if it wasn't such a big deal, then it couldn't drive anyone into bankruptcy.

      you can't have it both ways. either it's no big deal, and thus a trifling fee, or else it's trhe foundation of our economy, and thus an immense wrong.

      crimson gates reek with meat and wine/while on the streets, bones of the frozen dead -du fu (712-770)

      by wu ming on Sat Jul 16, 2005 at 03:27:52 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I'm shocked! (QQroll) (none)
      Shocked to hear you don't agree, Jiacinto, stunned, mortified!  

      I'd worry that there was something seriously wrong with one of us were we ever to agree on anything.

  •  background (4.00)
    Larry, thanks for the diary. I am pleased to see that the issue is still being pursued.  

    For background on reparations there was an article "Making the Case for Reparations" in Harper's, Nov 2000, which is a very interesting read. It's hard to find on the web, but can be read here. It's a klutsy format but the article is worth your time. It is a discussion on strategies: grounds for suit, defendants, plantiffs, damages in round table format. Excerpt from the article on the participants:

    "The following forum is based on a discussion held at the Palm restaurant in Washington, D.C. Jack Hitt served as moderator.

    "JACK HITT is a contributing editor of Harper's Magazine.

    "WILLIE E. GARY won a $500 million judgment against The Loewen Group Inc., the world's largest funeral-home and cemetery operators, in 1995 and $240 million against The Walt Disney Company last August. He is an attorney with Gary, Williams, Parenti, Finney, Lewis, McManus, Watson & Sperando, in Stuart, Florida.

    "ALEXANDER J. PIRES JR. won a $1 billion settlement for black farmers in their discrimination case against the U.S. Department of Agriculture and is currently working on a multibillion-dollar class-action suit on behalf of Native Americans. He is an attorney with Conlon, Frantz, Phelan & Pires, L.L.P., in Washington, D.C.

    "RICHARD F. SCRUGGS won the historic $368.5 billion settlement for the states in their suit against tobacco companies in 1997 and is currently building a class-action suit against HMOs. He is an attorney with Scruggs, Millette, Bozeman & Dent, P.A., in Pascagoula, Mississippi.

    "DENNIS C. SWEET III won a $400 million settlement in last year's "fen-phen" diet-drug case against American Home Products Corporation and $145 million against the Ford Motor Company. He is an attorney with Langston Sweet & Freese, in Jackson, Mississippi."

    Mentioned in this article is a book by Randall Robinson, "The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks." Fantastic book.

  •  Hemp and slavery... (none)
    From the 1830s thru the Civil War, the hemp industry was centered in Kentucky. The heavy labor was not in the growing, but in the processing, especially in bteaking the stalks to extract the long fiber, a process called decorticating.

    The first black labor union was formed soon after the Civil War, among the newly freed hemp mill workers in Frankfort. Unemployed white veterans were hired as scabs, but lacking practice, could only produce 1/4 as much processed fiber in a day. After a few months, the mill owners gave  in, accetepted the Union's terms, with major wage increases.

    (The best source I've seen on the immediate post Civil War period is actually a romance novel, The Reign of Law: A Tale of the Kentucky Hemp Fields  by James Allen, Published in 1900. Still available cheap, as it was a best seller in its day.)

    When the center of the industry shifted to central Illinois in the 1890s, experienced black workers were brought from Kentucky to Champaign.

    While none of the old hemp companies survive, I can see a symetry in awarding remaining black farmers first crack at licenses for a restored hemp industry.

    No-one who voted against the USAPATRIOT Act has lost an election. I am not currently Licensed to Practice in this State. Or Yours.

    by ben masel on Sat Jul 16, 2005 at 06:01:51 PM PDT

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