Slavery apologies and the reparations question

by Walter Olson on June 20, 2009

“The Senate unanimously passed a resolution [Thursday] apologizing for slavery, making way for a joint congressional resolution and the latest attempt by the federal government to take responsibility for 2 1/2 centuries of slavery.” [WaPo] Not altogether surprisingly, if you ask leading reparations advocates Randall Robinson and Charles Ogletree, Jr., whether this should reignite talk of reparations, they say yes. My City Journal article of last year explains why I think the latter very bad idea never picked up the political momentum its advocates expected.

Stephen Bainbridge has this response to the resolution’s sponsor:

“You wonder why we didn’t do it 100 years ago,” Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), lead sponsor of the resolution, said after the vote. “It is important to have a collective response to a collective injustice.”

Memo to Senator Harkin: We had a collective response. It was called the Army of the Potomac.

{ 17 comments }

1 Supremecourtjester 06.20.09 at 1:50 pm

Who do they think will accept the apology?

Meanwhile, I am still waiting for an apology from the government of Egypt for holding my ancestors in bondage (see Exodus for the full story.)

2 Paul W Dennis 06.20.09 at 3:22 pm

I personally am in favor of paying limited reparations to anyone alive today who : (1) was a slave in the USA before 1865 , (2) whose biological parents were slaves in the USA before 1865 , or (3) whose biological grandparents were slaves in the USA before 1865

No one else

3 yankee 88 06.21.09 at 12:48 am

If apologies for slavery in the past are in order, then when is the Congessional vote of thanks from the Black Caucus to the three hundred thousand Union soldiers who died for “Emancipation” to be expected? Chicago Yankee

4 Gary D. Sheldon 06.21.09 at 11:57 am

If they are going to do that, then I think the “slaves” should also go back to their native homeland and demand that they also pay a reparation as in most cases of slaves being bought and sold in Africa, it was their own countrymen who rounded them up for sale to the white man.

Also if we as a country are tring to “fix” the past, then I think we should give back to the Native Amercians (Amercian Indians) all that the white man has take from them, to include their homelands.

5 Southern Belle 06.21.09 at 3:22 pm

Being Scots-Irish I’m positively sure that no one in my family ever owned slaves, mostly because: (1) we couldn’t have afforded slaves and (2) the Scottish and the Irish were second-class citizens too. However, not a single black person alive in this country has ever suffered the atrociousness of slavery, not one of them has ever been owned by another human being or been forced to work for hours on end in a field therefore I WILL NOT pay anyone my hard earned money for something I didn’t have a hand in to someone who also didn’t experience it.

6 Jerry M 06.21.09 at 10:05 pm

As an Irish-American whose great-great grandfather died while fighting for the North in the Civil War (Pennsylvania Company K, 99th Regiment), I would nonetheless support the concept of paying reparations IF: the recipients would agree to permanently waive their rights to receive any further benefits from any government “entitlement” program such as welfare, subsidized housing, food stamps, earned income tax credits, unemployment compensation, etc.. This way at least there would be some end to the gravy train.

7 Darleen Click 06.22.09 at 12:40 am

The Click family was sold out of debtor’s prison in England and shipped to the New World in 1697. They were then sold to work on a plantation in Virginia. Bond slavery wasn’t that much better than chattel, it took my family over 60 years to pay off the bond (meaning many family members were born into slavery).

Funny how non-African slavery in the Americas is studiously ignored.

and, oh yes, many family members fought with the Union during the Civil War. Shouldn’t I also get a pass from paying money reparations seeing as my ancestors paid in blood?

8 ps 06.22.09 at 2:54 am

Of course the Black Caucus should also take collective responsibility and issue an apology for the enslavement of thousands of Europeans by the Moors. Financial compensation can then be discussed in parallel with any discussions regarding black slavery.

9 bradley13 06.22.09 at 4:26 am

Reparations for what, exactly?

The slaves are long dead, as are those who enslaved them. Their descendents have the great good fortune to be living in the USA, which sports a substantially higher standard of living than Africa.

If they don’t like it here, they could always emigrate to Africa.

10 Roy B 06.22.09 at 9:38 am

Two questions, first, as my family lost 3 members in the Civil War and a 4th lost a leg, will I be receiving compensation from decendants of the rebel army?

Second, why are our polititians wasting time on this aspect of slavery, heinous as it was, when they could maybe do something about slavery in the world today? Or would that show that they have an interest in something other than posturing? (Oops, that was a 3rd question)

11 A.W. 06.22.09 at 10:26 am

I will say that around 1866 or so, reparations would have been a great idea. you could identify with particularity who was victimized and who was the perpetrators, and as a way of making sure the newly freed slaves were independant landowners and less susceptible to economic control, i think it might have worked out brilliantly.

But to give reparations now would require us to engage in either collective guilt or creepy racial classification and probably some of both. For instance, take Obama. Does his white half give reparations to his black half? Or should he get anything given that his black side is descended from a voluntary african immigrant and presumably not from any American slave. Does that mean that Michelle should recieve a full payment, but he gets none? Does that mean his children should only get a half payment? or will we simplify it and give out money according to the color of one’s skin.

Of course you could say that all black people get an equal share, but it begs the question: who counts as black? there are people walking around who look lilly white but actually have a hidden black ancestor. So then they get reparations, too? maybe we go with a one-drop rule. i believe there were some laws in places like Louisiana, long ruled unconstitutional that had a thing or two to say on that.

And if all of that seems pretty creepy, well, that is my point.

Anyway, a court of law can’t do it but for special legislation and fat chance that will happen. why? um, the statute of limitations, that is why.

12 MF 06.23.09 at 3:41 pm

Of course the Black Caucus should also take collective responsibility and issue an apology for the enslavement of thousands of Europeans by the Moors.

Don’t you mean the Moops? ;-)

13 jb 06.26.09 at 10:54 am

While the ancestors of American Blacks were enslaved, my ancestors were getting beaten up in pogroms in Russia. Therefore, I had no responsibility for their suffering and should be exempt from paying reparations. If I must pay, then I’m sure you can find descendants of the Tsar’s troops to pay my share for me.

14 tyree 06.27.09 at 5:31 am

“Memo to Senator Harkin: We had a collective response. It was called the Army of the Potomac.”
And a fine collective response is was.
It’s too bad that teaching history is pretty much ignored in public school today. Some textbooks have to take pictures of Presidents out of them because regulations say that they need to have the same number of female pictures as male pictures.

15 bj worlds 07.04.09 at 1:37 am

My wish is that one white man could be a black man for one day.

16 pete 07.13.09 at 11:41 pm

bj

that line is so tired. get over it. my ancestors weren’t even here during the slavery mess, we were called green mouths because the British stole all the Irish food and sent it out of the country, a lot of it in the form of whiskey. Do I ask England for reparations for the hundreds of years of oppression and genocide of the Irish people? No you freaking idiot, I make a life with what I have and thank God I don’t have to suffer as my people did. quit your blubbering and MAKE a life, don’t try to steal one.

17 Italian American 07.19.09 at 10:44 pm

And let me speak for the 6 percent of the American Population that is of Italian descent that was not only not here before the American civil war but was mostly enslaved as part of the brutal “Padrone system” in Southern Italy. We had our own civil war in 1860 in Italy. Most of our ancestors arrived in the US after 1890.

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