It is a safe bet that no one reading this has ever owned a slave.
It’s also a safe bet that no one reading this has ever been a slave.
The practice was abolished by amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1865, over 150 years ago.
Many Americans are new citizens who immigrated here or are descendants of those who came to America well after slavery was abolished.
But none of that matters to Democrats in the Congressional Black Caucus who may be renewing their demand that all white Americans reimburse African-Americans for the sin of slavery.
Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), who has represented Michigan since 1965, the longest-serving member of Congress, has pushed the so-called “reparations” legislation every session for more than twenty years.
The bill would demand formal apology from the federal government to African-Americans for the “racial and economic discrimination against African-Americans.”
In addition, the legislation would establish a commission to study the specifics of reparations, including the amount to be paid and the mechanism for determining who would be eligible to receiving payment.
Less than 1 percent of Americans owned slaves at the height of the practice, including at least 3,500 blacks who held other blacks in involuntary servitude.
The issue is fraught with controversy and promises to add to the divisiveness in the country as the two-term tenure of the nation’s first African-American president comes to an end.
President Obama himself represents just one area of difficulty should Conyers’s bill succeed in becoming law, as his mother was white and his father a black from Kenya, so that Obama is not descended from slaves.
Although the New York Times noted that the payments “would have to come from taxpayers, who have no culpability for those past crimes and little, if any, of the benefit,” reparations is not entirely without precedent.
President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 granting reparations to Japanese-Americans who were interned during World War II pursuant to an Executive Order issued by President Franklin Roosevelt less than 90 days after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The 1988 Act required a formal apology from the U.S. government and the acknowledgement that the internment, although upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, was the result of “race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership.”
Every surviving internee received a payment for $20,000 beginning in 1990 when President George H.W. Bush presented the first check and personally apologized.
Conyers and the Congressional Black Caucus are hoping the time has come for similar action for the descendants of slaves long laid to rest.
Once again the only issue with this idea is that there are no surviving slaves on earth.
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