The Movement For Reparations Is Alive And Well: Here Are 5 Important Updates
American cities, private institutions and others are stepping in to fill the gap by implementing their own reparations programs.
April 07, 2022 at 10:33 pm
The last few years have seen a revival of the debate over reparations for slavery and its aftermath in the United States. Despite renewed interest in the topic and the aftermath of the racial reckoning of 2020, Congress and the White House still seem far away from making real progress on providing compensation or restitution for centuries of slavery and racial oppression in this country. Even state-level efforts, such as a push for reparations in California, are facing difficulties due to disagreements over who should be eligible for compensation. But despite this lack of progress on the federal and state levels, significant progress is still being made. Here are five major updates on reparations efforts around the country and beyond.
1. St. Louis’ voluntary reparations tax is part of a multi-city reparations effort.
St. Louis will now allow residents to contribute to a fund for reparations. The voluntary reparations tax will allow residents to add a donation to various local payments such as property taxes or utility bills. Details about the reparations program, such as what payments might look like or who may be eligible, have not yet been decided. A city official explained that the program is still “in the exploratory stages.”
The effort came as part of the Mayors Organized for Reparations and Equity initiative, or MORE, a coalition of 11 city mayors who have committed to advance reparations efforts in their cities. Other cities in this coalition have also made moves toward reparations. St. Paul, Minn. created a Community Reparations Commission earlier this year and will soon begin public hearings to gather information on possible ways to proceed.
2. A push to restore a lost Black town in Oklahoma gains momentum.
One of the mayors in the MORE group is going a step further in her push to redress racial discrimination in her city. As the Washington Post reports, Mayor Keisha Currin of Tullahassee, Okla. is seeking to attract grants, loans and investments to rebuild her town. Tullahassee is one of the oldest historically Black towns in Oklahoma, created shortly after the Civil War by a group of newly freed Black residents. Older than the state itself, the community was once a thriving oasis for Black people. But outside influences, such as banks refusing to loan money to town residents and the destruction of the Greenwood District in nearby Tulsa, drove businesses and people out of Tullahassee.
Now, the town has less than 100 people. Currin and others, such as recent Town Manager Cymone Davis, are seeking to bring in outside money to restore the town to its previous status as a haven for Black people in the state. Currin told the Post that she fields daily messages from people wanting to move to her town and waiting for the development projects to come to fruition. “I am a firm believer that if we build it, they will come,” Currin said.
3. Churches are starting their own reparations programs.
The debates over reparations generally involve governmental action, whether at the national, state or local level. But private organizations that practiced or benefited from slavery have also begun to recognize their pasts and put in efforts to make amends. Among the leaders in this private reparations push are churches and other Christian institutions that previously engaged in slavery and are now putting their faith into action by making amends. While Black churches and church leaders have long been at the forefront of racial justice initiatives, the participation of predominantly white denominations and leaders has been growing in recent years.
As NBC News reports, major predominantly white denominations, such as the Episcopal Church, have been actively uncovering their past involvement in slavery and gathering funds for restitution. The Episcopal Diocese of New York has set aside more than $1 million for reparations programs. Other denominations, such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Presbyterian Church, have also put similar programs in place.
The Minnesota Council of Churches also launched a reparations program for Black and Native American communities that were victimized in the past. And Blavity has previously reported on efforts by Christian institutions such as Georgetown University, where students implemented a reparations program for the descendants of people who were enslaved by the university.
4. U.S. government returns Native American land in Virginia.
While much of the reparations focus has been on Black Americans, indigenous people have also sought action from governments and other entities that have dispossessed and exploited them for centuries. The movement for justice for Native Americans took a major step forward when President Joe Biden appointed Deb Haaland as Secretary of the Interior. Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo people, is the first Native American to serve as a cabinet secretary, and her department, among other things, controls the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Last Friday, Haaland announced that the government will be partnering with the Rappahannock Tribe, a Native Tribe of Virginia, to return 465 acres of Fort Cliff to the tribe. Fort Cliff, which was the site of the Rappahannock’s first fight against English colonialist John Smith in 1608, had been taken away from the tribe as they were pushed out to make way for white settlers. Now, the site will legally belong to the Rappahannock again, with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and other agencies helping to administer it. This move is the latest in a series of reparations and compensation plans enacted in recent years for indigenous peoples in the United States and Canada to make up for centuries of abuse and dispossession of indigenous communities.
5. International push for reparations growing.
The moves being made in the U.S. and Canada are part of a growing international movement for colonial powers to provide reparations and other forms of compensation for indigenous communities and the descendants of formerly enslaved individuals. The 1619 Project founder Nikole Hannah-Jones recently spoke to the United Nations about the need for reparations, highlighting the global nature of the issue. As Blavity previously reported, the recent visit of Prince William and Kate Middleton to the Caribbean saw the royal couple protested by activists in Jamaica seeking reparations from the British for the UK’s history of slavery and exploitation of the nation. Jamaica’s demands are part of a larger movement of more than a dozen Caribbean nations to call for compensation from the European nations that colonized and exploited them.
These movements and programs, operating at a variety of levels from local to international, have kept the reparations movement going. Though much more progress needs to be made, we are moving closer to seeing communities in the U.S. and elsewhere finally receive some justice for the atrocities committed against them over centuries of exploitation. The movement for reparations, despite setbacks and disagreements, is alive and well.