Every year since 2002 the community-based group, Reparations United Front, RUF, has presented a comprehensive report to Southern California residents regarding the state of the reparations movement. This year that report will be presented on Saturday, from 11 am to 4 p.m., at Los Angeles Southwest College in Lecture Hall LL 103. The presentation is in conjunction with a class assignment for Pol Sci 101, and it is both free and open to the general public.
The report will include a reparations debate, a look at the international reparations movement, a RUF awards ceremony for its annual community-best recipient, and commentary on the church and reparations.
Although the recent Black farmers’ settlement was indeed a reparations issue, as is the continuing machinations over legitimizing the Black Indians (Seminoles, Cherokee, Creek, Chickasaw and others) as a distinctive nation which deserves its own recognition and respect beyond affiliation with the five civilized tribes, the national reparations movement has been very, very quiet since the election of President Barack Obama and the loss of the Greenwood, Okla., vs. State of Okla. court case (Alexander v. Oklahoma).
The latter, which occurred in May 2005, had been seen as the Brown vs. Board of the reparations movement, and the rejection of the writ of certiorari by the U.S. Supreme Court (refusal to hear the case), was devastating to advocates of African American reparations in the U.S. Harambee Radio, a very popular online broadcast vehicle, in November did a six-hour precedent-setting series on “The Status of the Reparations Movement in America by its Leaders,” which was a sequential bundle of interviews and on-air discussions about the history, the achievements, the failures and the future of the movement, primarily in the U.S. Interested listeners can contact Harambee at email@example.com. You can purchase a copy of the series from the station or, as I understand it, you may be able to pick one up at the RUF symposium on Saturday.
The production is priceless, and included Senghor Baye, the currently elected president-general of Marcus Garvey’s UNIA-ACL; Raymond Winbush, editor of “Should America Pay?,” one of the best modern books on the reparations issue; Dr. Julius Garvey, one of Marcus Garvey’s two surviving sons, and Queen Mother Dorothy Lewis of N’COBRA (National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America), among others.
H.R. 40, Congressman John Conyers’ consistently re-introduced legislation to fund a national study in order to determine whether reparations are really due to African Americans because of the non-payment of slave labor, the sins of Jim Crowism and other discriminatory ills, will no doubt be proposed one more time during the 112th session of Congress. However, since Congressman Conyers will certainly not be chair any longer of the House Judiciary Committee, the legislation, once again, will be buried in the minutiae of a subcommittee and never make it to a full House vote. Symbolically, it will remain important but, practically, it will have little impact on moving the reparations movement any further than where it already is in this country.
The strongest part of the movement now is clearly within the international arena. As in Rap and even Hip Hop which were born and raised in America, the outlying and distant lands that got mesmerized by it and adopted it as their own have become the agenda-setters and innovators. The U.S. movement has become a mere part of the crowd, not the leader of the pack as it once was.
What’s lacking in this country is an overall reparations plan approved and agreed to by most of the adherents and advocates within the movement. There remain great tacticians, activists and sloganeers who regularly get work done and tasks completed in local, regional and, occasionally, state configurations.
Rarely, however, is there anything done nationally for or about reparations, other than N’COBRA’s annual conference or an infrequent academic symposium or workshop.
There is no reparations theme song as “We Shall Overcome” became for the Civil Rights Movement, although the Staples Singers’ classic, “When Will We Be Paid?,” re-done in 2001-2002 by Prince, and well-sung in Southern California recently by our own a cappella group, Renaissance, fronted by Torre Reese, certainly can claim that label any time someone pushes it.
No currently popular rapper has championed it. There is no clear national direction. There is no well-recognized cadre of leaders (Randall Robinson has moved to St. Kitts) keeping it in the news, and there is no consistent p.r. campaign regularly informing the public about what’s going on in reparations.
Given all that, one could easily get the impression that the reparations movement is dead or dying.
Neither is the case. Some Black churches still support and advocate the issue, while several White churches (e.g., the National Episcopal, Anglican and Quaker denominations), in 2007-2009 passed nationwide resolutions apologizing for slavery and for their denomination’s participation in that sordid institution.
Several states, including Maryland and Virginia, did likewise, and Congress, in separate resolutions in 2008 and 2009, apologized for slavery and Jim Crow discrimination. Additionally, there are several colleges which offer reparations movement courses, blog and hard-copy news magazines occasionally still carry provocative articles about the issue, and there are efforts to add slavery-oriented chapters and reparations discussions to public school curricula in different parts of the nation, including right here in Southern California.
Groups like the RUF continue working hard to get significant reparations projects identified and completed, and to keep the issue in conversations about bettering the condition of being Black in America.
The reparations issue is multifaceted and deep. Come out to Southwest College on Saturday and be well-informed. Knowledge, and the skill to use it wisely and effectively, is king.
Professor David L. Horne, is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or Non Governmental Organization (NGO). It is the step-parent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.
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