Representative of the 4th U.S.
Congressional District of GEORGIA
August 11, 2001
From the inception of our nation in 1776
to 1868 a thriving slave trade flourished between the United States and various
African nations. An estimated 30-60 million African men, women, and children
were forcibly taken from their African homelands and brought here to the United
States and enslaved. These people and their families were never compensated by
the US government for damages and human suffering which was caused by this crime
against humanity. That is why I am issuing a call for the issue of reparations
to be studied seriously in this country. I also believe that the United States
should issue an official apology for its participation in the world slave trade
of the 18th and 19th centuries.
The issue of reparations for blacks has
long been avoided in this country although there are countless reasons that
validate the need. US jurisprudence and history have honored the tradition of
paying victims for damages and suffering. US history is replete with instances
of US support for the payment of reparations to individuals and communities that
have been wronged by the US government. The United States government has even
apologized at least once for mistreating some of its citizens of color.
The only thing unusual about a discussion
of reparations or payment of damages in the American context is the outcry
against reparations or damages being paid to black people.
The very outcry itself, given US history,
is a sad indicator of how far away this country really is from the One America
that we all want to see and live in.
The treatment of blacks in this country
has historically been deplorable and while steps have been made to better the
racial climate, nothing has been done to compensate those who have been wronged
in the process. Bush does not want to talk about reparations because he opposes
paying compensation to black Americans for slavery.
That is what Ari Fleischer his spokesman,
had the nerve to categorically state at a White House briefing. I hope that is a
mischaracterization of President Bush's attitude, especially given the facts
surrounding the November 2000 elections.
Fortunately, the facts of the long, sorry
story of the mistreatment of African Americans doesn't depend on the supposed
opinions of President Bush,
Sadly, however, even the Emancipation
Proclamation failed to end the story.
The end of the Civil War merely ushered in
yet another chapter in the long book on black marginalization in the US that is
still being written today.
The ignoble 1857 Dred Scott decision saw
the United States Supreme Court rule that no black man could be regarded as an
equal and therefore had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.
Not even The Fourteenth Amendment, which
was the constitutional rejoinder to the Dred Scott decision, could effectively
protect Black women and men from the deep-seated racism which produced Jim Crow
and the end of the Reconstruction Era. The Supreme Court nailed apartheid into
the fabric of America with its 1892 Plessy versus Ferguson decision which
legally enshrined "separate but equal" as US custom and law. Segregation would
remain the law of the land until its demise three-quarters of a century later.
Plessy versus Ferguson ushered in "Jim
Crow" laws and marked the end of the post-Civil War Reconstruction Era. Blacks
were now legally barred from access to employment and public places such as
restaurants, hotels, and other facilities.
By the early 20th Century, every Southern
state had passed laws that created two separate societies; one black, the other
white. Blacks and whites could not ride together in the same railroad cars, sit
in the same waiting rooms, use the same washrooms, or drink from the same water
fountains. Blacks were denied access to parks, beaches, and picnic areas; they
were barred from many hospitals.
What had been maintained by custom in the
rural south had become sanctioned by the United States Supreme Court as the law
of the land. These laws were not overturned until the 1954 Brown versus Board of
Education Supreme Court decision and the subsequent passage of the 1964 Civil
The millions of blacks who lived and
worked in America's completely segregated society, suffered a century of terror
and lynchings at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan and the general public and the
complete failure of the state to protect them.
Human Rights Watch recently issued a
report stating that the US should pay reparations not only for slavery, but for
segregation, too. No mention is made in the Human Rights Report of the one
hundred years of lynchings to which Black people in America were subjected.
Four little girls bombed to their deaths
in 1962 are only just now beginning to have justice served; however their
parents, relatives, and an entire grieving community received nothing in
compensation for their suffering.
A recent and commendable Wall Street
Journal article reported that in the early 20th century, tens of thousands of
convicts, most of whom were black men, were snared in a largely forgotten
justice system rooted in racism and nurtured by economic expedience. Alabama was
perhaps the worst offender, but certainly was not the only one. Until nearly
1930, Alabama was providing convicts to businesses hungry for hands to work in
farm fields, lumber camps, railroad construction gangs and, especially in later
years, mines. For state and local officials, the incentive was money and for
many years, convict leasing was one of Alabama's largest sources of funding.
Nearly two decades after slavery was
abolished in America, men were dying as slaves in a prison work scheme that
benefited southern states and businesses.
Alabama's forced labor system generated
nearly $17 million for the state government alone, or between $225 million and
$285 million in today's dollars.
Of course, this does not include the
profits accruing to the many southern companies that benefited from this
mostly-black slave labor.
Unfortunately slavery, Jim Crow
segregation, and prison slave labor were not enough for the purveyors of
state-sanctioned racial discrimination of the American sort. The Federal
Government of the United States used all its available resources to thwart the
call of African Americans for the US to respect their basic human rights. Thus,
the COINTELPRO program was born. COINTELPRO was the FBI's secret program to
undermine the struggle for freedom from racism and discrimination that was led
by African American, and later Native American, Latino, and progressive white
Though the name stands for
"Counterintelligence Program," the targets were not enemy spies.
In an infamous FBI memo, the stated
purpose of COINTELPRO was to "expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or
otherwise neutralize the activities of black nationalist " organizations as well
as "their leadership, spokesmen, membership, and supporters."
The FBI took the law into its own hands
and secretly used fraud, force, harassment, intimidation, psychological-warfare,
other forms of deception, and even murder, to sabotage constitutionally
protected political activity.
This reign of terror left countless black,
white, Native American, and Latino victims behind bars who were convicted of
bogus crimes and to this day are serving exceptionally long sentences that arose
from their politically motivated actions. Many of these men and women who have
committed their lives to movements that sought justice in an era marked by war,
racial violence, and political assassinations, are aging behind prison walls,
serving longer sentences than they would have in any other industrialized
Additionally, there have been many victims
of COINTELPRO. Our country's democracy is the biggest victim. That our laws
could be subverted by a small group of people in high office is a clear danger
to all of us. However, that it was done specifically to this country's people of
color to deny them and the United States the benefit of the authentic leadership
of true representatives of America's communities, especially America's black
community, deprives us all of talents that are even now desperately needed but
wasted in graveyards, prisons, or in fractured individuals, families and
communities. This illegal US government activity affected more than the
individuals involved, but also their families and our entire community.
Today the vestiges of racial
discrimination, which began during the days of black race hatred and slavery,
are still visible.
Black women and men are haunted by the
reality that "Driving While Black" in many states makes you a prime target for
police harassment. In the state of New Jersey, at least eight of every ten
automobile searches carried out by state troopers on the New Jersey Turnpike
over most of the last decade were conducted on vehicles driven by blacks and
Hispanics. 80% of the stops, yet only 30% of the population. This is racial
profiling at its worst. But New Jersey is not the only Driving While Black
The Justice Department admits that blacks
are more likely than whites to be pulled over by police, imprisoned, and put to
death. And, though blacks and whites have about the same rate of drug use,
blacks are more likely to be arrested than whites and are more likely to receive
longer prison sentences than whites.
Twenty-six black men were executed last
year, some probably innocent; 2001 was begun by executing a retarded black
Government studies on health disparities
confirm that blacks are less likely to receive surgery, transplants, and
prescription drugs than whites.
Physicians are less likely to prescribe
appropriate treatment for blacks than for whites and black scientists,
physicians, and institutions are shut out of the funding stream to prevent this.
As a result, Black American males and females experience shorter life expectancy
rates than do their white counterparts. A black baby boy born in Harlem today
has less chance of reaching age 65 than a baby born in Bangladesh.
In the US education system, 40% of all
public schools are racially exclusive, meaning that fewer than 10% of their
students are children of color while 40% of public schools in large cities are
"intensely segregated," meaning that more then 90% of the students are children
1998 statistics reveal that 26% of Blacks
and 25% of Latinos live below the poverty level while only ten percent of whites
live below the poverty level.
The entire world watched the debacle of
the Year 2000 Presidential election in which countless black women and men were
denied their constitutional right to vote, suffering the same disfranchisement
that their grandmothers and grandfathers struggled to overcome half a century
earlier. So bad was the spectacle that autocrats and dictators offered election
monitors to the United States. Even former President Jimmy Carter, noted for his
election monitoring around the world, stated that the US system was so bad that
the US wouldn't even qualify for Carter Center monitors. Sadly, 2007 marks the
expiration of important sections of the Voting Rights Act.
It is evident that the United States has
not adequately addressed its problem of race. Additionally, it has failed to
even account for all its transgressions against its black citizens. Passing laws
has not been enough to stem the tide of the deep-seated racism rooted in the
fabric of America. Even then, each time laws have been passed erosion of
enforcement and the laws themselves has been a consistent problem.
The Reconstruction Era, after the United
States Civil War, was as short-lived as was the Second Reconstruction which was
inaugurated after the Brown versus Board of Education decision. However, the
1978 Bakke Supreme Court decision began the erosion of the real efforts to
integrate the American mainstream.
Shaw versus Reno and Johnson versus Miller
are important voting Rights Act Supreme Court decisions which end the expansion
of protections for blacks and other people of color for the right to
representation. The expiration of critical sections of the Voting Rights Act
could very well usher in a return of state-sanctioned black disfranchisement on
a scale worse than what was discovered in the 2000 November Presidential
As you can see, the US is far from having adequately addressed its race
problem. In addition, I believe the United States is in long-standing
violation of international treaties that it has signed and ratified.
Participation in the World Conference Against Racism is but one step needed to
reverse the deep-seated appalling conditions and present-day treatment for
people of color in this country. The United States could and should also
apologize for its participation in the slave trade and the long history of
racism against black people that that participation fostered and supported.
Contact: Jocco Baccus Jocco.Baccus@mail.house.gov