Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Mon Aug 19 09:06:23 MDT 2002

Patrick Ryan wrote:
>-> Where would the money come from?
>If it is taxes, wouldn't that just
>elevate racism?  I worked a various
>places where white workers felt
>very angry if this would pass,
>and understandably.  They never
>owned slaves, I never owned slaves,
>my family never owned slaves, but
>we have to pay for the mess that
>the capitalist class harbored?

For information on reparations, go to:

There is also an article in the Village Voice on the Washington demo:

As far as white resentment is concerned, it is up to people like us to 
clarify the issues. Unfortunately, nearly every black demand since the end 
of the Civil War has led to white resentment of one sort or another. In 
fact the Irish workers in NYC rioted against conscription during the Civil 
War and attacked blacks on the street and burned their businesses. I am 
quite sure that some Germans resented having to make reparations to the 
Jews after WWII, especially under conditions of economic collapse, but it 
would ill serve our movement if we caved in to their racism.

The same sorts of issues are involved with indigenous land claims. People 
living in upstate NY resented Oneida land claims, but they were proper, 
legal and just.

Here is what Mumia has to say on the topic:

The Case for Reparations by Mumia Abu-Jamal

"They got mad at us because we was free and they let us go without a crumb 
of anything and without a penny and nothing but what we had on our backs 
.... We had a hard time then and I've been having a hard time ever since."
-- Frank Fikes, ex-slave [Genovese, E.D., Roll, Jordan, Roll (1974), p. 99]
The plaintive voice of Frank Fikes could've been echoed millions of times 
in the brutal aftermath of the U.S. Civil War, and would last (with the 
brief, fleeting exception of the Reconstruction period) for over a century 

What a cruel "freedom" awaited those four millions who witnessed the 
victory of the Union over the Confederacy. On January 16, 1865, two years 
after black troops restored Union hopes, Union General William Tecumsah 
Sherman would issue Special Field Order No. 15, which set aside the Sea 
Islands and the low country rice coastlands south of Charleston, for some 
30 miles inland, for the exclusive settlement of blacks. Each family would 
receive forty acres of fertile land, and the Union army would loan several 

In March, 1865, Congress would pass a law allowing "every male citizen, 
refugee or freedman," [...] "not more than forty acres of land."

By the end of the year, with the War won, another General, Oliver Otis 
Howard, would tell some 40,000 Blacks that they could not keep the lands 
allotted to them by Sherman. With President Abraham Lincoln dead by April, 
1865, the next President, Andrew Johnson, would veto the "forty acre" law 
passed by Congress, and the road to betrayal was chosen. Johnson would 
order the return of plantations to the former owners of slaves and lands, 
if they pledged loyalty.

Decades later, after over half a century had passed, a former slave, Sally 
Dixon, would remember, "We was told when we got freed we was going to get 
forty acres of land and a mule. 'Stead of that, we didn't get nothing." 
[Kelley, R.D.G. & E. Lewis, eds., To Make Our World Anew: A History of 
African Americans (Oxford Univ. Press, 2000), p.240]

Today, over a century and a half after the issuance of Special Field Order 
No. 15, the words "forty acres and a mule" evokes bitterness in Black 
hearts, for it signals the loathsome betrayal of the Union Army and the 
U.S. government of a people held over 244 years in bondage. Here is the 
long-buried roots of the reparations movement, a movement bequeathed by 
ancient ancestors, who were denied justice.

Needless to say, the notion of reparations is a controversial one in a 
society as Negrophobic as the United States. Some, notably a well-known 
Jewish conservative, have damned the notion of reparations, claiming to 
base his objections on, a.) The difficulty of identifying descendants; b.) 
The passage of time; c.) The relative well-being of U.S. Blacks, and d.) 
The bad-feeling such an action would evoke in whites who see this as 
"divisive." He also questions who should be asked to pay. The essential 
point he advances is that the past is past.

What's wrong with such an argument?

To say a thing is difficult is not an argument for it not to be done. It's 
a rather lame excuse.

To argue that too much time has passed is to damn those who did not do the 
right thing at the right time; not an argument against doing it now. Union 
General Sherman and a Radical Republican Congress did the right thing; 
General cum Freedman's Bureau Commissioner Howard and President Johnson 

How can any self-respecting Jew argue 'the past is past?'

If the biblical texts are any measure of the Jewish past, how did they 
interact with the nation that held them in bondage? The book of Exodus 
12:33-37 (KJV) gives us an interesting insight:

33 And the Egyptians were urgent upon the [Jewish] people, that they might 
send them out of the land in haste; for they said, We Be all dead men.
34 And the people took their dough before it was leavened, their 
kneading-troughs being bound up in their clothes upon their shoulders.

35 And the children of Israel did according to the word of Moses; and they 
borrowed of the Egyptians jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment:

36 And the Lord gave the people favour in the sight of the Egyptians, so 
that they lent unto them such things as they required. And they spoiled the 

37 And the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six 
hundred thousand on foot that were men, beside children. [The Bible]

Now, one question: Do you really believe the Egyptians "lent" the Jews 
gold, silver, and "such things as they required"? (If so, is there any 
biblical record of the children of Israel returning to Egypt to return what 
was "lent"?)

Is there any serious question that this was a biblical warrant for 
reparations, of such a cost that it "spoiled the Egyptians?" (Does anyone 
think this was "divisive"?).

Did the Egyptians carry the Israelites from their homes, beat them, torture 
them, deculturate them, humiliate them and forbid them from learning the 
ways, the names, the faiths of their fathers? Did they shackle them and 
carry them across the burning sands, splitting families and tribes, so that 
they would slave for their Egyptian captors?

The Bible reports that the Jews entered Egypt because Israel was facing 
famine (Gen. 42). The Israelites sold their own brother into slavery, but 
the Pharoah granted him rank, and privilege. After the death of their 
father, Jacob, 70 relatives entered Egypt, and lived splendidly there. 
Again, Exodus:

1:7 And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and 
multiplied, and waxed exceedingly mighty; and the land was filled with them.
And, as for the past, if it's not so important, why then do Jews celebrate 
Passover, based on their liberation story, some 5,000 years later - annually?

For some, the past is never past.

Years ago, a young Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale got together to write the 
10 Point Program of the Black Panther Party. The October 1966 B.P.P. 
Platform and Program was broken down into two parts:

What We Want, and What We Believe. This is one of them:

3. We want an end to the robbery by the white man of our Black Community.
We believe that this racist government has robbed us and now we are 
demanding the overdue debt of forty acres and two mules. Forty acres and 
two mules was promised 100 years ago as restitution for slave labor and 
mass murder of black people. We will accept the payment in currency which 
will be distributed to our many communities. The Germans are now aiding the 
Jews in Israel for the genocide of the Jewish people. The Germans murdered 
six million Jews. The American racist has taken part in the slaughter of 
over fifty million black people; therefore, we feel that this is a modest 
demand that we make.

As ever, Huey P. Newton was ahead of his time. This may be an idea that is 
now right on time.

© 2001 Mumia Abu-Jamal


This column may be reprinted and/or distributed by electronic means, but 
only for non-commercial use, and only with the inclusion of the following 
copyright information: Text (c) copyright 2001 by Mumia Abu-Jamal. All 
rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of the author.

Louis Proyect

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