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Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Date: May 21, 2002
Byline: Eugene Kane

Reparations don't have to cost a dime

The question whether the U.S. government should pay reparations to the descendants of slaves never seems to go away.

Like it or not, the movement seems to be growing.

In just the past few months, several major corporations have been targeted with legal action because of their historic links to slavery.

Individual blacks have also filed lawsuits. Some even attempted to get a "reparations" refund on their income taxes.

(Don't try it; it doesn't work.)

In my humble opinion, the day will never come when a check is made out to each and every black person who can prove to be a direct descendant of slaves.

Doesn't matter that other groups have received financial reparations, including Japanese Americans interned during World War II and some Jewish families who were paid off by Germany.

Financial reparations for slavery simply won't fly. There are too many questions among both black and white Americans how it could realistically be done.

So you can rule out the possibility of a check. But that's not the only kind of reparations black Americans want or need.

Instead, there is a fundamental component of the reparations movement that can be easily delivered to every African-American.

Simply stated: Stop lying about slavery, and just deal with it.

Case in point: In my hometown of Philadelphia, the National Park Service recently decided to recognize the institution of slavery when it comes to one of our most endearing symbols of freedom: the Liberty Bell.

The bell is being moved to a new $12 million home, a section of historic downtown where our first president, George Washington, used to live.

Also, the place where he owned slaves.

That's not unusual. Many members of the group of men we call "Founding Fathers" were dyed-in-the-wool slave owners.

Acknowledging that fact in an official marker, as the city plans to do, would be a first.

Maybe the next place they could focus on is the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., built almost entirely by slave labor.

These gaps in American history are plentiful, particularly for blacks looking for themselves in the history books.

One of my most profound experiences as a young boy was visiting historic Valley Forge on a class trip and having one of the so-called tour guides refuse to tell us where the slave quarters were located.

On another trip as an adult to an antebellum mansion in Natchez, Miss., I was shocked to hear the guide describe how various "servants" would stand at the dinner table, waving large fans to make the plantation owner's visitors comfortable.

"Servants?" I asked her. "Don't you mean slaves?"

Her blanched expression told me all I needed to know. Minutes later, she pulled me aside to inform me the official policy during these antebellum mansion tours was to refer to the help as servants.

In other words, lie through your teeth.

The concept of reparations is about more than money. It's about making someone whole again.

It's time to put slavery into its proper perspective in stark, uncompromising truth. In other words, tell the truth: It wasn't just in the Deep South. And, it wasn't just a small number of plantation owners who benefited.

Without the income generated by slaveholders, America wouldn't have had enough money to fight the Revolutionary War.

You can look it up, right near the part in the U.S. Constitution where blacks counted only as three-fifths of a human being.

The idea of a check going out to each and every black American with slavery in his or her background is a pipe dream.

But acknowledging the role slavery played in the American dream would be the right thing to do.

That kind of reparation won't cost much, but it would mean a lot more than money.


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