It’s Juneteenth: An Apology and Reparations are due for American slavery

Even before there was a divisive Tea Party movement in this country, Black and White Americans remain far, far apart regarding the aftermath of slavery. But long, long before there was a modern Tea Party movement, there was “Juneteenth.”

Black folks are increasingly demanding, first an apology from White Americans, and then some form of reparations payments. Those demands are long overdue.

The Juneteenth holiday punctuates the validity of those demands. Juneteenth is June 19, 1865, the day a column of Union troops arrived at Galveston, Texas and read the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing the slaves in Texas two years and six months after it was proclaimed, and one year and two months after the conclusion of the Civil War which presumably decided the issue of slavery permanently.

White folks think that they have already done enough to make America an egalitarian society without recognizing that the nation’s wealth was created by the free, forced labor of African slaves. And besides they argue, what would Black folks do with any money paid to them in the form of reparations, anyway? Buy a Cadillac?

And now, since the election of Pres. Barack Obama, White folks are angry that Black folks have gotten away with what they already have. They don’t just want to kick Pres. Obama to the curb, they want to re-decide the outcome of the Civil War, where Black men fought for their own freedom, and where their presence was decisive.

Officially–according to my Funk & Wagnalls Practical Standard Dictionary–reparation is: “The act of making amends; atonement; indemnity. The act of repairing or the state of being repaired.” In the vernacular it means: “getting paid!”

No people who’ve ever lived deserve reparation payments–making amends; atonement; indemnity–from their former tormentors more than do Blacks in the United States of America. But try telling that to most white folks, Fuhgeddaboutit.

First proposed to Congress in 1867 by Rep. Thaddeus Stevens (R-Pa.), then again in 1896, 1898, 1899, and 1903 before the call fell silent, the reparations demand has moved from the rhetoric of largely Black nationalist organizations which sounded the call throughout the last half of the 20th Century, to new prominence in the 21st Century.

H.R. 40–the bill introduced every year since 1989 by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) to study whether or not reparations should be paid to Blacks in this country–is now one of the two primary legislative goals of the NAACP, as well as an important goal articulated by the National Bar Association, TransAfrica, the National Congress of Economic Development Commissioners, as well as Delta Sigma Theta and Sigma Gamma Rho sororities. Now there’s more.

While militant Black organizations such as N’COBRA have long maintained that “slavery was a grave injustice that caused and continues to cause African Americans to suffer enormous damages and losses, both material and intangible, including the loss of human dignity and liberty…denying (them) the fruits of their own labor, and was an immoral and inhumane deprivation of life, liberty, citizenship rights, and cultural heritage,” new life and energy is breathed into the cause when even one White official champions the cause.

Rep. Tony Hall (D-Ohio)–with 15 original co-sponsors, including several Whites and even one Republican–proposed a resolution 12 years ago that would offer an official apology from the U.S. government for: “The fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery in the United States and the 13 American colonies.”

“I felt that it was a good idea. I felt that it was the right thing to do. I felt it was the moral thing to do,” Rep. Tony Hall (D-Ohio) told reporters June 19–Juneteenth 2000. The issue of slavery, “is still with us. It will not go away,” Rep. Hall said.

Hall’s resolution recommends that the government appoint a commission to examine the legacy of slavery; issue a public school curriculum about slavery; consider setting up a scholarship fund; and build a national slavery museum.

“When you hurt somebody it’s not an easy thing to say ‘I’m sorry.’ But if you don’t say ‘I’m sorry,’ if it’s a deep wound, what happens is that this hurt lingers, and it never goes away unless you settle it,” said Mr. Hall. “If there’s not the words saying ‘I’m sorry’ and if there’s no forgiveness, there’s no healing. So an apology is a simple thing, but it’s also a difficult thing.

“But you know this is a big nation, a powerful nation. The most powerful nation in the world today. A big nation sometimes has to be humble, and I think a big nation stays big because they say ‘I’m sorry.’ I believe a simple apology will go a long way in healing this wound,” Hall concluded. I agree.

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