Do Black People Owe White People Reparations For Slavery?

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DISCLAIMER FOR THE EASILY TRIGGERED: Slavery is wrong. I make no apologies for it. None of the research presented herein is intended to lessen the injustice of African slavery in America or slavery in any incarnation. If you disagree with what I have researched and decide to call me a (insert your insult here) I will say now, that you’re rubber and I’m glue. What you say bounces off me and sticks to you. Such is my present-day retort and likely my future rebuttal, should I feel so inclined. If you’re still curious as to why I posted this disclaimer, read on.

So, today, someone shared with me this article from Fox News, “Evanston, Illinois first in US to pay reparations to Black residents” and here are some quotes from that article.

The City Council in Evanston, Ill., voted 8-1 late Monday to approve a plan to make reparations available to Black residents over past discrimination and the lingering effects of slavery.

The plan, which could be the first of its kind in the U.S., is to distribute $400,000 to eligible Black households. The Associated Press reported that qualifying households in the city of 73,000 would be eligible to receive $25,000 for home repairs or down payments on property.

Ald. Robin Rue Simmons, the lawmaker who proposed the initiative back in 2019, called the approval a first step but said more needs to be done.

“It is, alone, not enough,” she said, according to the Chicago Tribune. “We all know that the road to repair and justice in the Black community is going to be a generation of work. It’s going to be many programs and initiatives and more funding.”

Further down in the article it reads…

Qualifying residents must either have lived in or been a direct descendant of a Black person who lived in Evanston between 1919 to 1969 and who suffered discrimination in housing because of city ordinances, policies or practices.

The article reminded me of a conversation I had with a very dear friend of mine about race issues in America. (My friend happens to be white.) She asked me what percentage of black people would likely hold her personally responsible for slavery? I told her that I could not quantify a percentage but likely many African Americans would hold her personally responsible for the sins of her ancestors because of news reports like this.

Now, I’ve heard several arguments made for reparations on numerous occasions, but I tend to reject them. Why? For me, it always comes down to this – who should pay?

The topic of reparations for African Americans is a topic that has been discussed ad nauseum and typically for political advantage. Case in point, here’s a quote the Washington Times. The headline reads, “California moves to consider reparations for slavery.” The date of the article is August 29, 2020.

California lawmakers are setting up a task force to study and make recommendations for reparations to African Americans, particularly the descendants of slaves, as the nation struggles again with civil rights and unrest following the latest shooting of a Black man by police.

The state Senate supported creating the nine-member commission on a bipartisan 33-3 vote Saturday. The measure returns to the Assembly for a final vote before lawmakers adjourn for the year on Monday, though Assembly members overwhelmingly already approved an earlier version of the bill.

“Let’s be clear: Chattel slavery, both in California and across our nation, birthed a legacy of racial harm and inequity that continues to impact the conditions of Black life in California,” said Democratic Sen. Holly Mitchell of Los Angeles.

She cited disproportionate homelessness, unemployment, involvement in the criminal justice system, lower academic performance and higher health risks during the coronavirus pandemic.

Although California before the Civil War was officially a free state, Mitchell listed legal and judicial steps state officials took at the time to support slavery in Southern states while repressing Blacks.

The legislation would require the task force to conduct a detailed study of the impact of slavery in California and recommend to the Legislature by July 2023 the form of compensation that should be awarded, how it should be awarded, and who should be should be eligible for compensation.

The panel, which would start meeting no later than June 2021, could also recommend other forms of rehabilitation or redress.

A sober minded person might ask, what does slavery that happened centuries ago have to do with today’s homelessness, unemployment, health risks associated with the coronavirus and the other social issues mentioned in that quote? Outside of inciting the passions of would-be voters, what immediate benefit does it provide to the people of California?

When reparations are discussed it is typically proposed that the US government should be paying African Americans an undetermined amount of money for the suffering inflicted upon their ancestors by all the white people in America. If we look at this logically and without angry rhetoric, that argument doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. To illustrate that, let me share with you some inconvenient facts.

Inconvenient fact #1: Very few white people in America owned slaves.

  • According to data on White Slave Owners from a US Census Bureau 1860 Report, only 1.6 percent of whites in America owned slaves. I’ll quote that number again, 1.6. Between 1525 and 1866, in the entire history of the slave trade to the New World, according to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, 12.5 million Africans were shipped to the New World. 10.7 million survived the dreaded Middle Passage, disembarking in North America, the Caribbean and South America. And how many of these 10.7 million Africans were shipped directly to North America? Only about 388,000. In other words, 4% of slaves from Africa went to North America. The other 96% went to South America.

Inconvenient fact #2: Native Americans owned and traded in slaves!

  • According to the Oklahoma Historical Society website and Smithsonian Magazine, from the late 18th century on, Native Americans in the South, like whites, owned slaves. And, when the U.S. government “removed” the five nations to “Indian Territory” (now the state of Oklahoma) in the 1830s, they took their slaves with them, so that “[b]y the time the Civil War broke out more than eight thousand blacks were enslaved in Indian Territory.” Overall, enslaved people accounted for “14 percent of the population” of the Indian Territory, and it wasn’t until after the Civil War that emancipation arrived for some of the slaves. 

Inconvenient fact #3: African Americans owned slaves too

Should white people today be forced to pay reparations when only 1.6 percent of whites during the slavery era owned slaves? Should we demand payment from Native Americans and African Americans as well? Both groups owned African American slaves too. I could go on but, no, I’ll share a bit more.

Inconvenient fact #4: Whites Were Slaves in North Africa Before Blacks Were Slaves in America

I am quoting a 2004 article now from Ohio State News.”

A new study suggests that a million or more European Christians were enslaved by Muslims in North Africa between 1530 and 1780 – a far greater number than had ever been estimated before. In a new book, Robert Davis, professor of history at Ohio State University, developed a unique methodology to calculate the number of white Christians who were enslaved along Africa’s Barbary Coast, arriving at much higher slave population estimates than any previous studies had found.

Most other accounts of slavery along the Barbary coast didn’t try to estimate the number of slaves, or only looked at the number of slaves in particular cities, Davis said. Most previously estimated slave counts have thus tended to be in the thousands, or at most in the tens of thousands. Davis, by contrast, has calculated that between 1 million and 1.25 million European Christians were captured and forced to work in North Africa from the 16th to 18th centuries.

Davis’s new estimates appear in the book Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the Mediterranean, the Barbary Coast, and Italy, 1500-1800 (Palgrave Macmillan).

Now, should today’s white people demand reparations from today’s black people for the crime of enslaving their ancestors for two centuries? For some reason, lack of education mostly, so many people in America believe that America created the institution of slavery. I assure you America did not invent slavery. A cursory glance into a bible proves that. But, I digress, because I am veering off from something, I really want to say in 3 points.

  • Point #1… The Reparations Agreement between Israel and the Federal Republic of Germany was signed on September 10, 1952, and entered in force on March 27, 1953. According to the Agreement, West Germany was to pay Israel for the costs of “resettling so great a number of uprooted and destitute Jewish refugees” after the war, and to compensate individual Jews, via the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, for losses in Jewish livelihood and property resulting from Nazi persecution. | That was justice and the right thing to do.
  • Point #2… When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, President FDR forced Japanese Americans to be relocated and incarcerated in concentration camps. There was no justification for this strategy and later, research proved it was motivated by fear and racism. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed into law the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 which apologized for the internment on behalf of the U.S. government and authorized a payment of $20,000 to each former internee who was still alive when the act was passed; a total cost of 1.6 billion dollars. | That was justice and the right thing to do.
  • Point #3… Reparations were paid to Jewish and Japanese survivors who were personally affected by the trauma. So, should African Americans be paid reparations? The African survivors of Slavery, who were personally traumatized centuries ago, should have been. But not the African Americans of today because who can truly know who owes what? Statistically speaking, very few whites enslaved black people, Native Americans enslaved black people, black people enslaved black people and blacks enslaved white people for two centuries. So, again, who pays?

No doubt, some of you reading this will have a problem with what I’ve shared. Perhaps, you are calling me names now. (No doubt. Its why I posted the disclaimer at the beginning.) If so, let me leave you with one final quote where a certain group is demanding social justice because of slavery. This quote is from BBC News.

The West is being asked to pay Africa $777 [trillion] within five years in reparation for enslaving Africans while colonising the continent. The African World Reparations and Repatriation Truth Commission, meeting in Accra for its first international conference, also called for all international debt owed by Africa to be “unconditionally cancelled”.

The Accra Declaration issued at the conference says that money will be demanded from ”all those nations of Western Europe and the Americas and institutions, who participated and benefited from the slave trade and colonialism”.

The conference, co-chaired by Dr Hamet Maulana and Mrs Debra Kofie, announced plans to set up an international team of lawyers from Africa and the diaspora to pursue all legal means to collect the money. The group will also be contacting the International Court of Justice, as well as the United Nations and the Organization of African Unity for assistance.

Mrs Kofie told the BBC the reparation figure was based on the number of human lives lost to Africa during the slave-trade, as well as an assessment of the worth of the gold, diamonds and other minerals taken from the continent during colonial rule.

She says Africa’s turn has come. “We are the only group that have not received reparations. The Jewish people have received reparations. The native Americans have received reparations. The Korean comfort women and so-on and so forth,” she said.

The declaration added that all those in the diaspora, who want to return and settle in Africa, should be allowed to do so and that those who enslaved and colonised Africa should provide seaworthy vessels and aircraft for such repatriation.

The date of that article from BBC News is August 20, 1999.

Thanks for reading this far. I know it was a rather long rant today. A shorter one tomorrow. (I think. It all depends on what I read.)

Jim Stroud

P.S. Did you know that reparations were actually paid to slaves after the Civil War? This was thanks to a measure initiated by Abraham Lincoln (R). However, after his assassination, his Vice President – Andrew Johnson (D) assumed power and reversed it. Click here to listen to my podcast where I discuss that bit of history. (Or, just listen to it below.)


The header image comes from the Face 2 Face Africa article, “The shocking history of enslavement of 1.5 million white Europeans in North Africa in the 16th century.” I HIGHLY recommend it.

Do you know the truth about the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.?

MLK

Which of the following statements is false about the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.?

  • George Washington is the only other American to have had his birthday observed as a national holiday. In 1983 President Ronald Reagan signed a bill that created a federal holiday to honor King.
  • King’s birth name was Michael, not Martin. The civil rights leader was born Michael King Jr. on January 15, 1929. In 1934, however, his father, a pastor at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, traveled to Germany and became inspired by the Protestant Reformation leader Martin Luther. As a result, King Sr. changed his own name as well as that of his 5-year-old son.
  • King entered college at the age of 15. King was such a gifted student that he skipped grades nine and 12 before enrolling in 1944 at Morehouse College, the alma mater of his father and maternal grandfather. Although he was the son, grandson and great-grandson of Baptist ministers, King did not intend to follow the family vocation until Morehouse president Benjamin E. Mays, a noted theologian, convinced him otherwise. King was ordained before graduating college with a degree in sociology.
  • King narrowly escaped an assassination attempt a decade before his death. On September 20, 1958, King was in Harlem signing copies of his new book, “Stride Toward Freedom,” in Blumstein’s department store when he was approached by Izola Ware Curry. The woman asked if he was Martin Luther King Jr. After he said yes, Curry said, “I’ve been looking for you for five years,” and she plunged a seven-inch letter opener into his chest. The tip of the blade came to rest alongside his aorta, and King underwent hours of delicate emergency surgery. Surgeons later told King that just one sneeze could have punctured the aorta and killed him. From his hospital bed where he convalesced for weeks, King issued a statement affirming his nonviolent principles and saying he felt no ill will toward his mentally ill attacker.
MLK
  • He once attempted suicide: Distraught over the death of his grandmother Jennie, 12-year-old Martin jumped from a second story window at his family home, allegedly attempting suicide.
  • Surprising autopsy results: When he died, King was only 39 years old, but upon final autopsy, the medical examiner was surprised to find that his heart had the wear and tear of a 60-year-old. The doctor said he believed this to be the result of stress.
  • He spent his wedding night in a funeral home: At the time of his marriage to Coretta Scott King in 1953, honeymoon suites were unavailable to African Americans. Because of this, the couple spent their wedding night in a funeral home owned by a friend.
  • He was a Trekkie: At a fund-raiser, King convinced actress Nichelle Nichols, who played Lt. Uhura, to stay onboard when it was rumored she wanted to leave after the first season of the original “Star Trek.” He told Nichols he was her greatest fan.

Take a moment now and consider which of the above statements is false.

Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Keep thinking.

Okay, I’ll go ahead and tell you.

All of the above statements about MLK are true.

Sources:

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St. Nicholas and The Secret History of Black Santas

The modern image of Santa Claus was created in the late 1800s by American artist Thomas Nast in a series of cartoons for Harper’s Weekly magazine. It became a staple of Christmas cards and advertising images in the early 20th Century, most notably a 1930s Coca-Cola commercial, which some believe popularized his distinctive red-and-white garb.

Traditional Santa Claus Popularized by Coca-Cola

However, the origins of this cultural icon run much deeper than that. In fact, it predates the inception of our nation, itself. I’ll share the true origin of Santa Claus and the secret history of Black Santas in America in this special episode. Please, please, please (begging like James Brown) share this episode with with your network during this holiday season.

Bill “Bojangles” Robinson as Santa Claus

Give the gift of Black History this holiday season!

Black History Quiz: A Word Find Puzzle Book of Black History Facts and Quotes – Throughout the book, readers are presented with clues to the identity of influential people and historic events. The answers to the quizzes are words and phrases which are hidden inside a word find puzzle.  Over 250 facts are shared in this volume of word find puzzles that are sure to educate and inspire people of all ages and all over the world. After all, black history is world history.

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The Most Racist Song in American History

I publish a black history newsletter called Black History Quiz. New issues post every Sunday. A sample issue is below. Check it out and if you are intrigued please subscribe to the Black History Quiz newsletter and share with your network.

I grew up listening to this song and no doubt you did as well. When I heard it, great joy would swell up within me and I would come running to its siren call. If you were a kid in the 1970’s – 19990’s (and even now, in some places) this music had you begging your parents for money to buy Ice Cream from the Ice Cream man. Check out the video below to hear the tune I am speaking of.

Now “Turkey in the Straw” sounds innocent enough especially when you consider the first verse of the song which goes like this…

Turkey in the straw — Ha ha ha
Turkey in the hay — Hey hey hey
The Reubens are dancing to Turkey in the Straw
Hey highdy heydy, and a haw haw haw

So why is this racist? Well, someone took the tune of that song and added new lyrics to it and the song became a big hit for him and Columbia Records who published it in 1916. Can you guess the name of the song?

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Black History Quiz: A Word Find Puzzle Book of Black History Facts and Quotes – Throughout the book, readers are presented with clues to the identity of influential people and historic events. The answers to the quizzes are words and phrases which are hidden inside a word find puzzle.  Over 250 facts are shared in this volume of word find puzzles that are sure to educate and inspire people of all ages and all over the world. After all, black history is world history.

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Black History Quiz Answer

The remix of “Turkey In the Straw” was called “Nig*er love a Watermelon, Ha! Ha! Ha!” Listen to this discussion about it on the Hot97 Morning Show below. (Video below.)

So, what’s the story behind this? Well, according to Wikipedia. Harry C. Browne (August 18, 1878 – November 15, 1954) was an American banjo player and Racist actor. He appeared on stage and in silent films and recorded for Columbia Records in the 1910s and 1920s.

Browne was born in 1878 in North Adams, Massachusetts. Before his acting career, he served in the Second Massachusetts U.S. Volunteers during the Spanish–American War and had a brief career campaigning for the Democratic Party. In fact, William Jennings Bryan, then the Secretary of State, offered Browne a diplomatic position in February 1914 but the latter declined. Browne later worked for a stock company as an actor, casting him in plays such as Arizona and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm in the early 1900s.

A skilled banjo player, Browne performed in vaudeville for seven years before recording a series of songs for Columbia Records, starting in 1916. His first record, perhaps his most well-known, is a re-interpretation of the American folk song “Turkey in the Straw”. Released in March 1916, Browne appropriated the standard as a coon song re-titled “Nig*er Love a Watermelon Ha! Ha! Ha!”. It is commonly referred to as one of the most racist songs in American music: the song relied heavily on the watermelon stereotype, a belief popularized in the 19th century that African-Americans had an unusual appetite for watermelons. For the B-side, Browne chose to record the minstrel show favorite “Old Dan Tucker”, marking the tune’s first commercial appearance on a major label.

So, does this mean that Ice Cream Truck drivers are all racists? No. Actually, there is a compelling argument from The New Republic against this music used by Ice Cream trucks is racist at all. In a nutshell, a few quotes from their argument:

  • “… it sound like the “Turkey in the Straw” version vanished in the wake of the racist ones, but it always existed alongside and has outlived them. All evidence points to “Turkey in the Straw” being what the ice cream companies intended. In pop culture of the early twentieth century, that tune is eternally associated with either its inoffensive, nonsensical lyrics or, when performed instrumentally, with farm animals and rural settings. For example, the man who scored Looney Tunes, Carl Stalling, used “Turkey in the Straw” constantly in scenes on farms and especially with chickens and the like.“
  • “Johnson’s unearthing of the “Nigger Love a Watermelon” song is invaluable as history, but the likelihood that this is what the trucks were playing is negligible. The tune has been set to innumerable verses of various kinds, and this “Watermelon” rendition was, in the grand scheme of things, one of the vast majority of pop songs that comes and goes in a flash. That’s why it’s a rare archival find and historical footnote today.” 
  • “Was it really a custom for ice cream parlors to have someone sitting at the piano singing in black dialect about “darkies” eating watermelon and having razor fights? Let’s allow it could have been the custom at one of them somewhere—or just perhaps it was a rather obsessive quirk in some small town. But across this vast nation as a whole, was it ordinary to receive your banana split while being regaled with an endless succession of songs about coons and the ol’ plantation? And why in ice cream parlors, but not shoe stores or barbershops?”

My opinion is this…

Harry Browne’s remix of “Turkey in the Straw” is racist, pure and simple. It makes me think of how Big Al Yankovich would remake hit songs and people would sing them as much, if not more, than the original ones. Who remembers when he remade Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” song into “Eat it” and more recently, “White and Nerdy?” It did not replace the original songs he lampooned, it co-existed with them. I think Harry Browne’s racist version of the song is in the same vein.

I also find it unlikely that ice cream truck companies play this song with racist intent as the culture of ice cream parlors does not align with songs of the racist south. I also think that if such was the case, it would have been cancelled back in 2014 when this controversy was originally addressed.

So, is “Nig*er love a Watermelon, Ha! Ha! Ha!” the most racist song in America. Yes, it gets my vote. Are Ice Cream Trucks blasting it in our neighborhoods to promote racism? No. That being said, it may be best for Ice Cream trucks to switch song selection in these days of Cancel Culture and easily triggered crowds. Just my two cents of advice.

Dem Quakers is Good White Folks

I publish a black history newsletter called Black History Quiz. New issues post every Sunday. A sample issue is below. Check it out and if you are intrigued please subscribe to the Black History Quiz newsletter and share with your network.

The Underground Railroad was a network of people, African American as well as white, offering shelter and aid to escaped slaves from the South. It developed as a convergence of several different clandestine efforts. The exact dates of its existence are not known, but it operated from the late 18th century to the Civil War, at which point its efforts continued to undermine the Confederacy in a less-secretive fashion. [1] 

George Fox

So, who created it? Well, it depends on who you ask. Some historians credit white Christian abolitionists – “the Quakers.”  Quakers are a historically Christian denomination whose formal name is the “Religious Society of Friends” or “Friends Church.” Members of the various Quaker movements are all generally united by their belief in the ability of each human being to experientially access the light within, or “that of God in every one”. [2] The “Friends” were informally known as Quakers because they were said to “tremble in the way of the Lord.” [3]

Quaker leader George Fox, after a trip to Barbados, where he saw conditions slaves endured, pleaded with members of his sect to release their slaves even though they had treated them well.  Not only did many Quakers release their slaves, but they saw to it that they could take care of themselves, teaching them to read and write and, in many cases, seeing that they were escorted to states or territories where they could live in freedom. [4] 

Although George Washington freed all his slaves in his will, [5] he once complained that Quakers had attempted to “liberate” one of his slaves in 1786. [6] 

Next time you see this in the grocery store, think about the Underground Railroad.

Two prominent Quakers – Levi Coffin and John Fairfield

Levi Coffin: Sometimes called “the President of the Underground Railroad,” for nearly 20 years, North Carolina — born Coffin and his wife Catharine used their strategic location in southern Indiana, the modern-day Fountain City, to help more than 2,000 former slaves escape to freedom. A successful merchant, Coffin personally helped finance many Underground Railroad efforts. So many fugitive slaves came through his home that people renamed it “Grand Central Station.” Coffin’s reputation as a model citizen inspired other white people to become involved with the Underground Railroad. His 1847 relocation to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he died many years later, didn’t end his Underground Railroad activities.

John Fairfield: Hailing from a slaveholding family in Virginia, Fairfield, who abhorred slavery, became involved in the Underground Railroad when he helped a slave friend escape to Canada. Subsequently other black people, presumably in the Ohio area where he spent a lot of time, sought him out and paid him to help their relatives and friends escape. Posing as a slaveholder, a slave trader, and sometimes a peddler, Fairfield was able to gain the confidence of whites, which made it easier for him to lead runaway slaves to freedom. One of his most impressive feats was freeing 28 slaves by staging a funeral procession. While he led many of his charges to Canada, others he delivered to Levi Coffin, who handled the remainder of their escape. [7]

Recently, a certain Quaker was featured prominently in the national news and the center of controversy related to race relations in the USA. Do you know the name of the abolitionist Quaker I am speaking of?

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Black History Quiz Answer

The Quaker featured in the news recently was Betsy Ross.  Historians think the story of Betsy Ross is more of a legend than fact, akin to George Washington chopping down a cherry tree or Davy Crockett killing a bear at three years old. There is no definitive proof that she did or did not sew the first American flag for George Washington, nevertheless she receives credit for it. As such, accusing a Quaker of creating a “racist” flag is laughable in the context of history. This is possibly why, some may not want her to receive credit. (The origin of Betsy Ross being credited for the flag begins with a testimony of her grandson to a Historical society, 50 years after Betsy Ross’ passing.) [8]  

Presidential Inauguration of Barack Obama

Prior to Colin Kapernick declaring the Besty Ross flag as a symbol of hate, it was routinely part of American political celebrations (i.e. President Barack Obama’s inauguration) and is often seen waving from American homes nationwide. Although some have tried to tie the Betsy Ross flag to white supremacy (i.e. Jeremy Joseph Christian), it is often seen waving from American homes nationwide as a symbol of freedom and pride in country. 

Sources

[1] Underground Railroad
[2] George Fox’s Journal 
[3] English Dissenters and Their Beliefs – Living Gospel Daily
[4] Cameron, Judy, and Bachelor, Rosemary, “Quakers in the Anti-Slavery Movement,” The Second Boat, Vol. 17, No. 6, Winter, 1998.
[5] A Decision to Free His Slaves
[6] Letter from George Washington to Robert Morris (April 12, 1786)
[7] The Underground Railroad: Key Participants
[8] Cox, Vicky, “Betsy Ross – A Flag for a New Nation” 2013 

For further study:

Black History Quiz is a weekly celebration of the contributions and achievements of Africans and the descendants of the diaspora in the United States and around the world. PLEASE SUBSCRIBE to this newsletter and help spread the word about a proud people and their cultures. New issues post on Sundays.

(This issue of Black History Quiz was originally published on July 19, 2020.)