Reparations for slavery

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Reparations for slavery is a political justice concept that argues that reparations should be paid to the descendants of slaves from Sub-Saharan Africa who were trafficked to and enslaved in the Americas as a consequence of the Atlantic slave trade. The most notable demands for reparations have been made in the United Kingdom and the United States.

These reparations are hypothetical; that is, they have never been made. In contrast, some slave owners received compensated emancipation, the money that some governments paid some slave owners when slavery was abolished, as compensation for the loss of their property.

United States

Slavery ended in the United States in 1865 with the end of the American Civil War and the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which declared that, "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction".[1] At that time, an estimated four million African Americans were set free.[2]

Support for reparations

Within the political sphere, only one major bill demanding slavery reparations has been proposed, the "Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act," which former Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-MI) proposed unsuccessfully to the United States Congress every year from 1989 until his resignation in 2017.[3] As its name suggests, the bill recommended the creation of a commission to study the "impact of slavery on the social, political and economic life of our nation".[4]

In 2014, prominent American journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates published an article titled "The Case for Reparations", which discussed the continued effects of slavery and Jim Crow laws and made renewed demands for reparations. Coates makes reference to Rep. John Conyers Jr.'s aforementioned H.R.40 Bill, pointing out that Congress's failure to pass this bill expresses a lack of willingness to right their past wrongs.[5]

In September 2016, the United Nations' Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent encouraged Congress to pass the aforementioned H.R.40 Bill to study reparations proposals, but the Working Group did not directly endorse any specific reparations proposal. The report noted that there exists a legacy of racial inequality in the United States, explaining that, "Despite substantial changes since the end of the enforcement of Jim Crow and the fight for civil rights, ideology ensuring the domination of one group over another, continues to negatively impact the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of African Americans today." The report notes that a "dangerous ideology of white supremacy inhibits social cohesion among the US population".[6]

In 1999, African-American lawyer and activist Randall Robinson, founder of the TransAfrica advocacy organization, wrote that America's history of race riots, lynching, and institutional discrimination have "resulted in $1.4 trillion in losses for African Americans".[7] Economist Robert Browne stated the ultimate goal of reparations should be to "restore the black community to the economic position it would have if it had not been subjected to slavery and discrimination". [8] He estimates a fair reparation value anywhere between $1.4 to $4.7 trillion, or roughly $142,000 (equivalent to $153,000 in 2019) for every black American living today.[8] Other estimates range from $5.7 to $14.2[9] and $17.1 trillion.[10]

2020 presidential candidate endorsement for reparations

Andrew Yang said that he supports HR40 while speaking on the Karen Hunter show.

In January 2019, Marianne Williamson detailed a plan for reparations in an interview for Ebony Magazine.[11]

Senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker have both indicated some level of support for reparations, according to NPR.[12]

Tulsi Gabbard is a cosponsor of H.R.40, the only piece of legislation in Congress to study and develop reparations proposals[13] and Bernie Sanders is a co-sponsor for the Senate version of the bill.[14]

Kamala Harris declared in April 2019 she supports reparations.[15]

Beto O'Rourke is "open to considering some form of reparations," according to U.S. News & World Report.[16][17][18]

Tom Steyer in the 2020 Democratic Primaries Debate in South Carolina voiced his support for reparations.

Opposition to reparations

Opposition to slavery reparations is reflected in the general population. In a study conducted by YouGov in 2014, only 37% of Americans believed that slaves should have been provided compensation in the form of cash after being freed. Furthermore, only 15% believed that descendants of slaves should receive cash payments. The findings indicated a clear divide between black and white Americans on this issue. The study summarized their findings, noting: "Only 6% of white Americans support cash payments to the descendants of slaves, compared to 59% of black Americans. Similarly, only 19% of whites – and 63% of blacks – support special education and job training programs for the descendants of slaves."[19]

In 2014, in response to Ta-Nehisi Coates's article, "The Case for Reparations", conservative journalist Kevin D. Williamson published an article titled "The Case Against Reparations." In it, Williamson argues: "The people to whom reparations are owed are long dead".[20]

Another article opposing reparations to slavery was also published in 2014 by Canadian-American neoconservative political commentator David Frum.

United Kingdom

In 2004 descendants of Africans enslaved in America enlisted lawyer Ed Fagan in a class action lawsuit against insurance market Lloyd's of London, among other British and American corporations, stating that by insuring and financing the slaving ships they were complicit in genocide.[21][22] The case was not successful.[23] In Jamaica in 2004, a coalition of Rastafari movement and the Berber Moors[better source needed] who claim to have built the infrastructure of nations but never fully got paid for their building knowledge, and other groups argued that European countries formerly involved in the slave trade, especially Britain, should pay 72.5 billion pounds sterling to resettle 500,000 Jamaican Rastafarians in Africa. The claim was rejected by the British government, which said it could not be held accountable for wrongs in past centuries.[24]

On 27 November 2006, British Prime Minister Tony Blair made a partial apology for Britain's role in the African slavery trade. However African rights activists denounced it as "empty rhetoric" that failed to address the issue properly. They feel his apology stopped shy to prevent any legal retort.[25] Blair again apologized on 14 March 2007.[26]

On 24 August 2007, Ken Livingstone (then Mayor of London) apologized publicly for London's role in the slave trade. "You can look across there to see the institutions that still have the benefit of the wealth they created from slavery", he said pointing towards the financial district, before breaking down in tears. He claimed that London was still tainted by the horrors of slavery. Jesse Jackson praised Mayor Livingstone, and added that reparations should be made.[27][28]


In 1999, the African World Reparations and Repatriation Truth Commission called for the West to pay $777 trillion to Africa within five years.[29]

In September 2001, the United Nations sponsored the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance held in Durban, South Africa. The Durban Review Conference sponsored a resolution stating that the West owed reparations to Africa due to the "racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance" that the Atlantic slave trade caused.[30] Leaders of several African nations supported this resolution. The former Minister of Justice of Sudan, Ali Mohamed Osman Yassin, stated that the slave trade is responsible for the current problems plaguing Africa.


In 2007, Guyana President Bharrat Jagdeo formally called on European nations to pay reparations for the slave trade.[31] President Jagdeo stated, "Although some members of the international community have recognized their active role in this despicable system, they need to go step further and support reparations."[31] In 2014, the Parliament of Guyana established a "Reparations Committee of Guyana" to further investigate the impact of slavery and create formal demands for reparations.[32]

In 2011, Antigua & Barbuda called for reparations at the United Nations, saying "that segregation and violence against people of African descent had impaired their capacity for advancement as nations, communities and individuals".[33] More recently, in 2016, Ambassador of Antigua and Barbuda to the United States, Sir Ronald Sanders, called on Harvard University "to demonstrate its remorse and its debt to unnamed slaves from Antigua and Barbuda." According to Sanders, Isaac Royall Jr., who was the first endowed professor of law at Harvard, relied on the slaves on his plantation in Antigua when establishing Harvard Law School. Sanders recommended these reparations come in the form of annual scholarships for Antiguans and Barbudans.[34]

In 2012, Jamaica revived its reparations commission, to consider the question of whether the country should seek an apology or reparations from Britain for its role in the slave trade.[24] The opposition cited Britain's role in the end of the slave trade as a reason that Britain should issue no reparations.

Also in 2012, the Barbados government established a twelve-member Reparations Task Force, to be responsible for sustaining the local, regional and international momentum for reparations.[35][36] Barbados is reportedly "currently leading the way in calling for reparations from former colonial powers for the injustices suffered by slaves and their families."[37]

In 2013, in the first of a series of lectures in Georgetown, Guyana, to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the 1763 Berbice Slave Revolt, Principal of the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies, Sir Hilary Beckles urged Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries to emulate the position adopted by the Jews who were persecuted during the Second World War and have since organized a Jewish reparations fund.[38][39]

CARICOM Reparations Commission

Following Sir Hilary Beckles's advice, the CARICOM Reparations Commission (CRC) was created in September 2013. In 2014, 15 Caribbean nations unveiled the "CARICOM Ten Point Plan for Reparatory Justice" which spelled out demands for reparations from Europe "...for the enduring suffering inflicted by the Atlantic slave trade".[40] Among these demands were formal apologies from all nations involved (as opposed to "statements of regret"), repatriation of displaced Africans to their homeland, programs to help Africans learn about and share their histories, and institutions to improve slavery descendants' literacy, physical health, and psychological health.[41] Representatives of Caribbean states have repeatedly announced their intention to bring the issue to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). However, as of 2019 no action has been taken. Moreover, from the perspective of international law, it is disputed[by whom?] whether slavery, genocide and other crimes against humanity had been outlawed at the time they were committed in the Caribbean. As international law knows the principle of intertemporal law, in principle today's prohibitions cannot be applied retroactively. Still, some lawyers[who?] have argued that exceptions to the principle of intertemporal law are applicable in cases of crimes against humanity, as European states and their representatives could not expect slavery to be legal in the future (referred to as teleological reduction of the principle).[42]

See also


  1. ^ "United States of America 1789 (rev. 1992)". Constitute Project.
  2. ^ King, Wilma (2004). "Slavery, United States". Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood: In History and Society. 3: 757–758.
  3. ^ Cong. John Connyers. My Reparations Bill – HR 40., Institute of the Black World.
  4. ^ 114th Congress (2016). "All Bill Information for H.R.40 – Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act". Congress.Gov.
  5. ^ Coates, Ta-Nehisi (June 2014). "The Case for Reparations". The Atlantic.
  6. ^ "Report of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent on its mission to the United States of America" (PDF). US Human Rights Network. August 18, 2016.
  7. ^ Robinson, Randall (1999). "He Drove the First U.S Stake in South African Apartheid". Journal of Blacks in Higher Education. 24: 58.
  8. ^ a b "Six White Congressmen Endorse Reparations for Slavery". The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education (27): 20–21. 2000-01-01. doi:10.2307/2678973. JSTOR 2678973.
  9. ^ Craemer, thomas (21 April 2015). "Estimating Slavery Reparations: Present Value Comparisons of Historical Multigenerational Reparations Policies". Social Science Quarterly. 96 (2): 639–655. doi:10.1111/ssqu.12151.
  10. ^ Myers, Kristin. "Slavery reparations could carry a $17 trillion price tag". Yahoo. Yahoo Finance. Retrieved June 28, 2019.
  11. ^ Santi, Christina (2019-02-01). "Dem. Presidential Candidate Calls for $100B in Slavery Reparations". EBONY. Retrieved 2019-05-02.
  12. ^ "2020 Democrats Wrestle With A Big Question: What Are Reparations?". Retrieved 2019-05-02.
  13. ^ "H.R.40 – 116th Congress (2019-2020): Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act". 2019-06-19.
  14. ^ "S.1083 – H.R. 40 Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act". Retrieved 12 July 2019.
  15. ^ David Weigel (4 April 2019). "The Trailer: In the Sharpton primary, Democrats put civil rights and reparations at center stage". Washington Post. Retrieved 6 April 2019. asked Sen. Kamala Harris of California whether she supported "some type" of reparations and she said she did
  16. ^ David Catanese (3 April 2019). "Beto O'Rourke Takes a Stand on Reparations". U.S. News & World Report. Retrieved 6 April 2019. This posture signals he's at least now open to considering some form of reparations.
  17. ^ "Beto O'Rourke backs reparations commission: 'Absolutely I would sign that into law'".
  18. ^ Jeremy Wallace (3 April 2019). "Beto O'Rourke joins Julián Castro in backing reparations bill in Congress". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 6 April 2019.
  19. ^ "Overwhelming opposition to reparations for slavery and Jim Crow | YouGov". Retrieved 2020-02-13.
  20. ^ Williamson, Kevin D. (May 24, 2014). "The Case Against Reparations". National Review.
  21. ^ "Slave descendants file $1 billion lawsuit against companies with alleged ties to slave trade". Jet. 150 (17): 36–37. 2004.
  22. ^ Walsh, Conal (27 March 2004). "Slave descendants sue Lloyd's for billions". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2017-03-14.
  23. ^ Stamp, Gavin (20 March 2007). "Counting the cost of the slave trade". BBC News Retrieved 2017-03-14.
  24. ^ a b "Jamaicans Form Commission to Investigate Slavery Reparations from Britain". Associated Press. 1 November 2012.
  25. ^ "Blair 'sorrow' over slave trade". BBC News, 27 November 2006. Accessed 15 March 2007.
  26. ^ "Blair 'sorry' for UK slavery role". BBC News, 14 March 2007. Accessed 15 March 2007.
  27. ^ "Livingstone breaks down in tears at slave trade memorial". Daily Mail, 24 August 2007. Accessed 22 July 2009.
  28. ^ Muir, Hugh (24 August 2007). "Livingstone weeps as he apologises for slavery". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 July 2014.
  29. ^ "Africa Trillions demanded in slavery reparations". BBC. August 20, 1999.
  30. ^ Howard-Hassmann, Rhoda E. (2004-01-01). "Reparations to Africa and the Group of Eminent Persons (Les réparations pour l'Afrique et le Groupe de personnalités éminentes)". Cahiers d'Études Africaines. 44 (173/174): 81–97. doi:10.4000/etudesafricaines.4543. JSTOR 4393370.
  31. ^ a b "Guyana calls for reparations".
  32. ^ "Establishment of the Reparations Committee of Guyana". Parliament of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana.
  33. ^ Section, United Nations News Service (24 September 2011). "Reparations should be made for African slave trade, Antigua and Barbuda tells UN".
  34. ^ Anders, Wendy (October 24, 2016). "Antigua and Barbuda Asks Harvard University for Slavery Reparations". The Costa Rica Star.
  35. ^ "Barbados Takes Lead in Fight For Reparations for Slavery in the Caribbean", Atlanta Black Star, November 6, 2012.
  36. ^ Patrick Hunter, "CARICOM and reparations for slavery", Share, 20 February 2013.
  37. ^ Sanchez Manning, "Britain's colonial shame: Slave-owners given huge payouts after abolition", The Independent, 24 February 2013.
  38. ^ "UWI principal wants CARICOM to seek reparation for slavery", Jamaica Observer, 12 February 2013.
  39. ^ Rony Best, "The Case for Reparations", The New York Carib News, 6 March 2013.
  40. ^ Pilkington, Ed (March 9, 2014). "Caribbean nations prepare demand for slavery reparations". The Guardian.
  41. ^ "Reparations for Native Genocide And Slavery". CARICOM. October 13, 2015.
  42. ^ Buser, Andreas (2017). "Colonial Injustices and the Law of State Responsibility: The CARICOM Claim to Compensate Slavery and (Native) Genocide". Heidelberg Journal of International Law: 91–115. SSRN 3050647.

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