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Black reparations - Essay Example

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The historical foundation of the reparations movement is foremost the institution of slavery. Slavery was not marginal to, or an aberration in, the formation of the United States. During the colonial period, a racialised social order evolved, as did codified slave laws and institutionalised slave practices at the level of everyday life…
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Black reparations
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Black reparations

The central claims and organising and legal principles of the reparations movement are laid out in the Black Manifesto. The Manifesto is premised on the historical fact that the United States was constitutionally founded on slavery and that the persistence of racial inequality and injustice in American society is derived from slavery.
The Manifesto articulates the legal principle for reparations for African Americans. According to Wade Henderson, Executive Director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, this principle affirms that for every wrong there is a remedy, and ... that remedy is not extinguished by time itself, particularly when the manifestations of the problem are current day and visible to all1. Judiciously, the Manifesto does not specify how to assess the damage for reparations, calling for congressional hearings to determine the basis for compensation. While the Manifesto implicates the US government as a principal benefactor and enforcer of slavery, it intentionally does not specify the form or forms of reparations, except to call for the establishment of a 'private trust', which may imply financial as well as other forms of restitution. Mazrui has delineated three categories of reparations considered during his membership of the Group of Eminent Persons. The Group was established by the Organisation for African Unity (OAU) in 1992 to address reparations in the larger context of African slavery and colonisation. The categories, broadly defined, are 'capital transfer', 'skill transfer' and 'empowerment'. The first of the three is self-evident, implying financial compensation; the second concerns the acquisition of skills and presumably knowledge to compensate for the deprivation and underdevelopment caused by slavery and colonisation; the third, 'empowerment', calls for the apportionment to Africa of 'out of proportion power' in institutions like the World Bank and for veto authority in the Security Council of the United Nations. Within these three categories, reparations can take several forms.
Historical context
The call for reparations in the US is not of recent vintage. On his match through Confederate territory in 1865, General William Tecumseh Sherman issued Special Field Order No. 15 on 16 January which reserved land largely in the Sea Islands and on the South Carolina and Georgia coasts for the settlement of freed blacks. That year, nearly 40,000 former slaves settled on 400,000 acres in the 'Sherman Reservation ( Levitt, 1997). Although Sherman (and his contemporaries who advocated land distribution) did not define this as reparations, he ordered that each family of ex-slaves be given not more than forty acres of tillable land' and 'subject to the approval of the President of the United States, a possessory title in writing ( Matsuda, 1987). However, the terms of the land distribution were unclear. Was the federal government leasing or giving title of the land to the ex-slaves
When the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Land (aka the Freedmen's Bureau) was established in March 1865, Congress authorised it to lease confiscated or abandoned lands to former slaves who would have the option to 'purchase the land and receive such titles thereto as the United States can convey'. But President Johnson undermined the Bureau's efforts by ordering the restoration of property to the former Confederates he had pardoned. In ... Read More
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