All Out for Millions for Reparations

Against the Current, No. 102, January/February 2003

Black Workers for Justice

[This statement from Black Workers for Justice (BWFJ) appeared in Justice Speaks, June 2002, in preparation for the August 17 mobilization for reparations in Washington, DC. It is slightly abridged here and reprinted with permission. Subscriptions: $10 individual or $15 institutional from Justice Speaks, P.O. Box 26774, Raleigh NC 27611.]

UNDER THE BANNER, “They Owe Us,” the Millions for Reparations March is the latest step in the evolving and growing Reparations movement, both nationally and internationally.

August 17th is the birthday of Black Nationalist leader Marcus Garvey. The August march is the outgrowth of the struggle at the World Conference Against Racism in Durban in 2001, in which the body declared that the Atlantic slave trade and slavery was a crime against humanity.

The National Black United Front and the December 12th Movement, who formed the Durban 400 delegation in Durban, have called for African descendants at the grassroots to let the government know that over 35 million are entitled to and demand Reparations.

Not only did the final declaration speak on the nature of the despicable history but urges that “all persons have access to effective and adequate remedies and enjoy the right to seek from competent national tribunals and other national institutions just and adequate reparation and satisfaction for any damage as a result of such discrimination (racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance — Justice Speaks ed).”

September 11 and the “War Against Terrorism” has taken some of the attention away from the conclusions of the world gathering and the momentum in support of Reparations that is developing in the United States, Africa and the Caribbean. The mobilization, however, is breaking through the attempted government and media blackout.

In fact, Black people have noted repeatedly that all they have known in this country is terror. Lying in the bottom of filthy ships, forced unpaid labor, klan terror and police murders have all been identified as an historic and perpetual existence under terrorism.

Early this year the first of many expected lawsuits was filed against corporations and financial institutions that benefitted from slavery. Deadria Farmer-Paellmann is the main plaintiff in a lawsuit that seeks damages from Aetna Insurance Company, Fleet Boston Financial and CSX.

Aetna made money from insurance policies taken out on slaves. Fleet is the descent company of John Brown, the New England slave trader and CSX’s predecessor railroads were built, in part, with slave labor. Other legal actions will target the U.S. government for its sanctioning and profiting from this historic crime.

Legal action is not the only or even main tactic . . . the main effort has to be in the streets, in our schools, and in our religious institutions. It is clear that although there is a fairly high consciousness about Reparations among many people in the Black community, there are still millions who have not been won to this struggle.

There is much work to be done. This can be seen from what would appear to be a positive development coming from the Hip-Hop community. Russell Simmons, the Hip-Hop business giant, is trying to mobilize our youth around the slogan “40 Acres and a Bentley.”

While he thinks this is a modern version of “40 Acres and a Mule,” as Ed Whitfield has pointed out, “in 1865 a mule represented part of the productive forces in play at that time.” Bentleys, Mercedes, etc. do not represent the possibility for collective productive capacity for Black people.

The Reparations movement is not about individual paychecks. Those who have struggled for it over the years and those who are genuine in their desire to achieve freedom for the Black nation want to see hospitals, schools, housing, medical facilities, cultural and sports institutions built in our communities and controlled by Black people.

ATC 102, January-February 2003