Page One


By Chris Nichols, Special to the Daily Planet
Monday April 15, 2002

Reparations panelists say monetary is only beginning of America’s true atonement 


Legal experts, historians and advocates of social justice met Friday and Saturday to discuss the case for reparations for African Americans. The two-day symposium, entitled “Reparations for Slavery and Its Legacy,” was sponsored by the Center for Social Justice at UC Berkeley’s School of Law, Boalt Hall. 

The symposium provided a discussion of the case for reparations, a history of past reparation movements and future strategies for repairing disparities in health, income and status between blacks and whites due to the legacy of slavery. 

The first day of the symposium consisted of a speech and book signing by Raven Lecturer Randall Robinson, author of “The Debt – What America Owes to Blacks.”  

Saturday’s discussions included the case for reparations, reparations in congress and the courts, lessons from other reparation movements and future strategies. 

Panelists and organizers of the symposium expressed the desire to see a meaningful and genuine atonement on the part of the U.S. government for the damage caused to the African American population as a result of slavery. Speakers emphasized that a sincere apology and admission of culpability was more important than any amount of monetary compensation. 

“No amount of money is going to be sufficient unless an apology is involved. I want an apology. I want it to be meaningful,” expressed Roy Brooks, a Professor at the University of San Diego Law School. 

As a part of the future strategies discussion, UC Berkeley Professor of Sociology Troy Duster presented a two tier system of action. Duster proposed the need for both symbolic and substantial repair. He explained that symbols such as statues and plaques represent a constructed memory and serve as a selective history.  

“We need to reexamine our symbols. We need to rededicate and repair our history by putting up new statues and plaques next to the existing ones. Don’t pull down the old plaques. Put up statues of Nat Turner and other freedom fighters next to the old ones and create a conversation between the two,” says Duster. 

Duster asked the audience, “Where are the statues of the abolitionists? Where are the freedom fighters?” 

Duster concluded that “symbolic repair is a beginning.” He expressed that recognition must come first and pave the way for substantive repair. 

Panelists referenced the current HR-40 proposal for reparations in congress originally introduced by Congressman Conyers in 1989. The bill would allow for an investigation of slavery effects on the African American population and determine if reparations are necessary. 

Speakers also compared the movement for slavery reparations to the struggle and success of the Japanese American movement for redress for those forced into internment camps during World War II. 

The majority of the speakers, however, cautioned that a simple monetary settlement would undercut much of the movement for genuine redress.  

“Settlement clouds the black redress movement. If we pursue only the tort model we lose important support in our struggle,” says Brooks. 

Duster touched on the need for economic reform including change in the process of applying for housing loans and the Federal Housing Act. 

Director of the Center for Social Justice and organizer of the two-day symposium, Mary Louise Frampton expressed the need to bring the issue of reparations to the forefront of American society. “We can’t claim to be a land of freedom when we ignore the legacy of slavery. The general public is just beginning to understand this issue and Berkeley is a great place for this to begin,” says Frampton. 

Frampton and other organizers at the Center for Social Justice have been planning for the symposium since October and hope to organize future discussions on the issue. 

A set of concrete reparation demands were laid out by Leilani L. Donaldson, Chair of the Bay Area Organizing Committee or N’COBRA.  

Among the reparation demands expressed by Donaldson were the return of African cultural artifacts, the release of incarcerated members of the Black Panther Movement, $1 billion in aid for black farming companies and an end to the outstanding debts of African nations to the United States.  

Donaldson expressed that even with reparations more work needs to be done — that reparations are not an end in themselves. 

“We believe the struggle for reparations will ultimately be won by the work and energy of the masses of the African people,” says Donaldson.”We believe all of our demands will be met. We are not siphoning off demands because that would be defeatist,”  

Donaldson concluded her speech by asking the audience, “What is so scary about the truth? We need to live and act with the truth.” 

According to Alex Bagwell, an attendee of the symposium and member of N’COBRA, “The discussions gave a lot of focus to the work that a few of us have been doing. I was pleased with the breadth of the aspects of reparations and the future strategies,” says Bagwell. 

“My expectations for the symposium were to find out what other people think should happen involving reparations for slavery,” commented Harriet Bagwell, also a member of N’COBRA. “I found that people want not so much money as an apology like I feel too. I want an apology from the government,” says Bagwell. 

Included in the panel on future strategies for reparations were the comments of Vernellia Randall, Professor, University of Dayton School of Law. 

Randall’s speech focused on strategies for restoring black health care. Randall discussed the current status of black health, ways in which current black health relates to slavery and finally reparations in the United States. 

“Black people are sicker than white people,” says Randall, citing both adult and infant mortality rates for blacks internationally. 

Randall stressed that this issue is not just about the United States but concerns in disparities health between blacks and whites in Caribbean nations, Europe and Canada. 

According to Randall, the mortality rate for blacks internationally is twice that than for whites.  

Randall also stressed the connection between the current status of black health and the generational damage to black health carried over from slavery. “Blacks were made sick through the enslavement process, the breaking-in process,” says Randall. “It is clear that one’s health status is affected by previous generation’s health.” 

According to Randall the disparity between black and white health is not a new discovery though many dispute these connections. “There have been things written about this since slavery but now there are attempts to find some other explanation for the disparities between black and white health,” says Randall. 

“There’s been, dating back to the slave trade and through the 50’s, the 60’s, the 70’s a disparity in health,” says Randall. 

The reasons for disparity in health according to Randall are a lack of access to health care for blacks, underemployment at jobs providing health care, the high cost of health care. Randall also included a disparity in medical treatment between blacks and whites, a lack of data on different black populations and a lack of uniform data collection methods. 

Randall concluded by providing recommendations and strategies for improving black health.  

“This will require 50-80 years to repair our health and eliminate racial disparities in health care. We need to commit ourselves to this and find a way to say we’re taking this on and we’re taking it on for the long haul,” says Randall. 

“We need to reduce poverty We need to remove environmental hazards that affect our health. We need to locate health care facilities in black communities, diversity in the health care workforce, eliminate health care discrimination and an assertive civil rights health care agenda.” 

“Finally, we need to eliminate the institutional racism of the health care system,” says Randall.