The Thorny History of Reparations in the United States

The Thorny History of Reparations in the United States

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The papers were handed out one by one to the elderly recipients—most frail, some in wheelchairs. To some, it may have looked like a run-of-the-mill governmental ceremony with the usual federal fanfare. But to Norman Mineta, a California congressman and future Secretary of Transportation, the 1990 event was deeply symbolic.

The papers were checks for $20,000, accompanied by a letter of apology for the internment of over 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II. They were the first issued under the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, a historic law that offered monetary redress to over 80,000 people.

Mineta had spearheaded the law, fighting for a government apology and financial redress for nearly a decade. As he watched, he flashed back to his own internment during the war, first at a racetrack, then at Heart Mountain War Relocation Center in Wyoming. His family had been forced to leave their home and business behind.

Now, Mineta felt, the government had finally begun the process of reconciliation. “The country made a mistake, and admitted it was wrong,” he says. “It offered an apology and a redress payment. To me, the beauty and strength of this country is that it is able to admit wrong and issue redress.”

Today, the law is remembered as the most successful push for reparations for a historic wrong in U.S. history. But the United States' track record of reparations and official apologies is scattershot—and it has yet to tackle one of its most glaring injustices—the enslavement of African Americans. Many argue that slavery in America has legacies that continue to shape society today.

Though demands for apologies and financial restitution are not new, reparations for a state’s behavior toward its citizens are relatively modern. The idea of a state apologizing for, much less paying for, its actions toward its own citizens was almost unthinkable until Nazi Germany orchestrated a large-scale genocide. About 6 million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust, and for the first time the world grappled with how to make a nation pay money to atone for a historical injustice.

“There was the sense that Germans had done something very bad and needed to make amends,” says historian John Torpey, a professor at The Graduate Center of the City University of New York, and the author of Making Whole What Has Been Smashed: On Reparations Politics. “That was the price of admission for a return to the community of civilized nations.” Germany has since paid hundreds of millions of dollars to Israel, individual Holocaust survivors, and others.

Since then, the United States has followed suit. But though it has paid reparations to some groups it wronged through unjust treaties, coups and brutal experiments, others who still contend with the ramifications of historic injustices continue to wait for compensation.

Native American Reparations: Belated Payment for Unjustly Seized Land

World War II sparked a movement to address one of the United States’ historic wrongs: its treatment of Native Americans over centuries of conquest and colonization. Native Americans enlisted in World War II in disproportionately high numbers: 44,000, or nearly 13 percent of the entire population of Native Americans at the time, served as code talkers who stumped the enemy with their tribal languages and brave service members who fought in the European and Pacific theaters of war. After World War II, momentum to compensate tribes for the unjust seizure of their lands grew.

In 1946, Congress created the Indian Claims Commission, a body designed to hear historic grievances and compensate tribes for lost territories. It commissioned extensive historical research and ended up awarding about $1.3 billion to 176 tribes and bands. The money was largely given to groups, which then distributed the money among their members. For some tribes whose members didn’t live on a reservation, note historians Michael Lieder and Jake Page, the money was distributed per capita. For those who did live on reservations, the money was often earmarked for tribal projects.

However, the actual funds only averaged out to about $1,000 per person of Native American ancestry, and most of the money was put in trust accounts held by the United States government, which has been accused of mismanagement over the years. “Gambling has had a more positive impact on the quality of life on reservations than did the Indian Claims Commission Act,” Lieder and Page write.

And it took decades for a formal apology. Tucked inside a defense spending bill, the United States apologized for what it characterized as the “many instances of violence, maltreatment, and neglect inflicted on Native Peoples by citizens of the United States” in 2009.

Native Hawaiian Reparations: Land Leases for the Overthrow of a Kingdom

Beginning in 1893, Native Hawaiians’ extensive land holdings were taken by the federal government in the wake of its overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawai’i. The loss of lands had actually begun earlier: As white businesses flocked to Hawaii in the late 19th century, they bought up huge swaths of land and established plantations. As low-paid workers flocked to the island, Native Hawaiians began living in crowded cities and dying of diseases for which they had no immunities.

As a result, Native Hawaiians nearly died out. In 1920, there were an estimated 22,600 Native Hawaiians left, compared to nearly 690,000 in 1778, when Europeans first made contact with the islands.

In 1917, lands leased from Native Hawaiians by large sugar and ranching companies began to come up for renewal. John Wise, a Native Hawaiian who was the territory’s Senator, joined with Jonah Kūhiō Kalanianaʻole, a prince before the United States seized Hawaii, to argue that those lands should be set aside for Native Hawaiians.

The Hawaiian Homes Commission Act of 1920 established a land trust for Native Hawaiians and allowed people of one half Hawaiian ancestry by blood to lease homesteads from the federal government for 99 years at a time for a total of $1.

“Although the act was seen as helping a declining race,” writes historian J. Kehaulani Kauanui, “it was sharply limited in its potential for rehabilitating Hawaiians.”

Much of the land was remote and unfit for development, and it put people who married non-Native Hawaiians at risk of losing their land. Today, those problems persist. Though the Native Hawaiian population has surged, there remains a long waiting list for homestead lands, and families that inherit homesteads must prove their 50 percent Hawaiian descent to keep them. The United States only apologized for its treatment of Native Hawaiians in 1993, a century after the overthrow.

Tuskegee Experiment Reparations: Compensation for Medical Brutality

In some cases, federal and state governments have made payments to people harmed by brutality. In 1973, for example, the U.S. began an attempt at reconciliation for the Tuskegee Experiments, in which 600 black men were unknowingly left untreated for syphilis after being misled by officials who involuntarily enrolled them in a “treatment program.”

The existence of the experiment, and its horrifying extent, only became clear after Jean Heller, an investigative reporter for the Associated Press, wrote a story on the study and its effects. After a class-action lawsuit, the men were awarded $10 million and the United States promised to provide healthcare and burial services for the men. Eventually, the state ended up awarding healthcare and other services to the men’s spouses and descendants, too.

It took decades, though, for a presidential apology for the Tuskegee Experiment. In 1997, President Clinton called its victims “hundreds of men betrayed” and apologized on behalf of the United States. But financial compensation was cold comfort to more than the study’s victims. Decades later, the experiment is correlated with increases in mistrust of the medical establishment, overall mortality and reluctance to see medical providers among black men, who face significant health disparities compared to their white counterparts in the United States. “No scientific experiment inflicted more damage on the collective psyche of black Americans than the Tuskegee Study,” writes historian James H. Jones.

Cities and states, rather than the federal government, have led the way in financial compensation for most other cases of brutality. Take Florida, where lawmakers passed a bill that paid $2.1 million in reparations to survivors of the Rosewood Massacre, a 1923 incident in which a majority-black Florida town was destroyed by racist mobs. Or Chicago, which created a $5.5 million reparations fund for survivors of police brutality aimed at black men during the 1970s and 1980s.

People of Japanese Descent: Reparations for Internment During World War II

The Civil Liberties Act of 1988 Congressman Mineta spearheaded was a watershed moment for survivors of historical injustices. Though the United States did allow internees to file claims for damages or property loss after World War II, it had never paid reparations. That changed after the bill, which apologized for Japanese American internment and granted $20,000 to every survivor.

But despite strong grassroots support at the outset for the bill, notes Mineta, officials were wary of paying survivors. They opposed the bill despite the recommendations of a government-appointed commission that considered testimony from over 750 witnesses and concluded that internment was the result of “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership,” not military necessity.

“So very few people even knew about the evacuation and internment,” says Mineta. When he appealed for action, his fellow lawmakers would ask “This happened over 40 years ago. Why should we keep talking about it?”

In response, Mineta asked if they would willingly confine themselves behind bars for the duration of World War II for any amount of money. “Most people would say absolutely not,” he recalls.

After nearly a decade of Congressional roadblocks, the bill finally passed. Ronald Reagan agreed to sign the law after being reminded of a wartime speech he had given in recognition of Kazuo Masuda, a Japanese American war hero.

Will The U.S. Ever Pay Reparations for Slavery?

Despite the success of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, however, the United States has yet to tackle reparations for another glaring injustice: the enslavement of Africans from the earliest days of colonization to the passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865, and the long period of economic inequality and civil rights violations that followed. Though the U.S. apologized for slavery and segregation in 2009, it has never issued redress to the descendants of enslaved people.

When it comes to slavery the United States has proven unwilling to grapple with the enormity of its injustice, and of those that followed during Jim Crow segregation and the financial and social inequality faced by black Americans. In a recent Pew Research Center survey, most Americans said that slavery’s legacy still affects black Americans to this day. But that understanding has not yet fueled an overwhelming public demand for reparations.

“The politics of it are incredibly difficult,” says Torpey. He predicts calls for reparations for slavery will only gain footing in the wake of a commission similar to the one that helped get the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 off the ground. In June 2019, the House Judiciary Committee heard testimony on H.R. 40, a bill that would do just that. During the hearing, author Ta-Nehisi Coates pointed to the nation’s unjust past—and reparations as a way forward.

“It is impossible to imagine America without the inheritance of slavery,” he told lawmakers. “The matter of reparations is one of making amends and direct redress, but it is also a question of citizenship. In H.R. 40, this body has a chance to both make good on its 2009 apology for enslavement, and reject fair-weather patriotism, to say that this nation is both its credits and debits. That if Thomas Jefferson matters, so does Sally Hemings. That if D-Day matters, so does Black Wall Street. That if Valley Forge matters, so does Fort Pillow. Because the question really is not whether we’ll be tied to the somethings of our past, but whether we are courageous enough to be tied to the whole of them.”

Why we need reparations for Black Americans

Central to the idea of the American Dream lies an assumption that we all have an equal opportunity to generate the kind of wealth that brings meaning to the words “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” boldly penned in the Declaration of Independence. The American Dream portends that with hard work, a person can own a home, start a business, and grow a nest egg for generations to draw upon. This belief, however, has been defied repeatedly by the United States government’s own decrees that denied wealth-building opportunities to Black Americans.

Today, the average white family has roughly 10 times the amount of wealth as the average Black family. White college graduates have over seven times more wealth than Black college graduates. Making the American Dream an equitable reality demands the same U.S. government that denied wealth to Blacks restore that deferred wealth through reparations to their descendants in the form of individual cash payments in the amount that will close the Black-white racial wealth divide. Additionally, reparations should come in the form of wealth-building opportunities that address racial disparities in education, housing, and business ownership.

In 1860, over $3 billion was the value assigned to the physical bodies of enslaved Black Americans to be used as free labor and production. This was more money than was invested in factories and railroads combined. In 1861, the value placed on cotton produced by enslaved Blacks was $250 million. Slavery enriched white slave owners and their descendants, and it fueled the country’s economy while suppressing wealth building for the enslaved. The United States has yet to compensate descendants of enslaved Black Americans for their labor. Nor has the federal government atoned for the lost equity from anti-Black housing, transportation, and business policy. Slavery, Jim Crow segregation, anti-Black practices like redlining, and other discriminatory public policies in criminal justice and education have robbed Black Americans of the opportunities to build wealth (defined as assets minus debt) afforded to their white peers.

Bootstrapping isn’t going to erase racial wealth divides. As economists William “Sandy” Darity and Darrick Hamilton point out in their 2018 report, What We Get Wrong About Closing the Wealth Gap, “Blacks cannot close the racial wealth gap by changing their individual behavior –i.e. by assuming more ‘personal responsibility’ or acquiring the portfolio management insights associated with ‘[financial] literacy.’” In fact, white high school dropouts have more wealth than Black college graduates. Moreover, the racial wealth gap did not result from a lack of labor. Rather, it came from a lack of financial capital.

Not only do racial wealth disparities reveal fallacies in the American Dream, the financial and social consequences are significant and wide-ranging. Wealth is positively correlated with better health, educational, and economic outcomes. Furthermore, assets from homes, stocks, bonds, and retirement savings provide a financial safety net for the inevitable shocks to the economy and personal finances that happen throughout a person’s lifespan.

Recessions impact everyone, but wealth is distributed quite unevenly in the U.S. The woeful inadequacy of a government-sponsored safety net was made apparent in the wake of economic disasters like the 2008 housing crisis and natural ones like Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Those who can draw upon the equity in a home, savings, and securities are able to recover faster after economic downturns than those without wealth. The lack of a social safety net and the racial wealth divide are currently on display amid the COVID-19 crisis. Disparities in access to health care along with inequities in economic policies combine to make Black people more vulnerable to negative consequences than white individuals.

Below, we provide a history of reparations in the United States, missed opportunities to redress the racial wealth gap, and specific details of a viable reparations package for Black Americans.

Extorting Haiti

A prominent example is the so-called “Haitian Independence Debt” that saddled revolutionary Haiti with reparation payments to former slave owners in France.

Haitians had to pay for their independence. API/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Haiti declared independence from France in 1804, but the former colonial power refused to acknowledge the fact for another 20 years. Then in 1825, King Charles X decreed that he would recognize independence, but at a cost. The price tag would be 150 million francs – more than 10 years of the Haitian government’s entire revenue. The money, the French said, was needed to compensate former slave owners for the loss of what was deemed their property.

By 1883, Haiti had paid off some 90 million francs in reparations. But to finance such huge payments, Haiti had to borrow 166 million francs with the French banks Ternaux Grandolpe et Cie and Lafitte Rothschild Lapanonze. Loan interests and fees added to the overall sum owed to France.

The payments ran for a total of 122 years from 1825 to 1947, with the money going to more than 7,900 former slave owners and their descendants in France. By the time the payments ended, none of the originally enslaved or enslavers were still alive.

White Guilt and Reparations: A True Story

Co-blogger Bryan Caplan’s post this morning on collective guilt and the subsequent discussion in the comment section reminded me of something that happened my first day of a microeconomics class in 2001. At the end of the opening class, a number of people came up to ask questions. One was a young black woman who said, “Professor, what do you think of reparations for slavery?”

I answered, “I promise I’ll answer but first I want to know what you think.”

“And those reparations would be paid for by white people?”

I turned to a white guy who was waiting to ask a question, and I took a risk.

“Where are your grandparents from?” I asked.

“The Netherlands,” he answered.

I then turned back to the woman who had asked and said, “I’m ready to answer you. His grandparents came to this country well after slavery had ended. I think it’s wrong for the government to tax people who didn’t even inherit wealth from slavery to give to the great, great grandchildren of former slaves.”

Note: Of course it’s possible that his grandparents inherited wealth from their predecessors having had slaves in the Netherlands. I don’t know the history of slavery in the Netherlands. But the odds that they gained big time and came to the United States as wealthy people were probably pretty low.

Engerman on Slavery


Ross Levatter
Feb 11 2021 at 4:30pm

You also assumed your black student descended from slaves.

David Henderson
Feb 11 2021 at 6:14pm

True. And my assumption was correct.

Feb 11 2021 at 7:05pm

I think this is probably the weakest argument against reparations. The US government is (presumably) an ongoing concern that can make lasting promises, much like most companies. Let’s say the shares of a company change hands enough such that those who had owned them 5 years ago no longer owned any shares. Presumably the company is still liable for the debts it incurred.

You can make the argument that we cannot actually repay the harm because the victims of slavery are no longer with us and that we are sufficiently removed in time that it does not make sense to gives reparations to those 4 or 5 or 6 generations removed. But presumably if there was an argument that reparations were due then the United States government would be held liable.

Jon Murphy
Feb 11 2021 at 9:12pm

Problem: The United States government was not the slaveholder.

Feb 11 2021 at 10:24pm

That’s a fair point, though the US government did utilize slave labor in many context. It just happened to have leased slaves rather than owned them. The US government also did support (in very material ways) a system that denied liberty to millions of people. I don’t think it’s inconceivable that the US government bears some moral blame for the slavery that occurred within its borders. I’m just not sure that reparations are in order because the people who were directly affected are no longer around.

I will note that your argument is that the US government does not owe reparations because it is not at fault (i.e. didn’t own slaves). David’s argument is that the US government does not owe reparations because there’s been population turnover. Those are very different arguments.

Feb 13 2021 at 6:49pm

When I read that “the US government did utilize slave labor in many context[s],” I immediately thought of the military draft. Reparations for the descendants of slaves should be paired with reparations for the descendants of draftees. (Usually draftee-reparations will be smaller, though not for those draftees who were killed during their service.)

But many non-draftees who joined a military service did so under duress, knowing that if they did not “volunteer” they would be drafted their descendants should, in justice, be compensated, too. On the other hand, some of these volunteers did so out of other motives besides fear of being drafted, such as patriotism their descendants should not be compensated.

Slavery and the draft are only two of many practices by past U.S. administrations that are now seen to have been unjust, calling for compensation of descendants. (Of course, the judgment of injustice for practices that, at the time, were legal may be controversial, but it must not be shirked.)

The funds for these reparations are to come from the present U.S. government. The burden thus falls on all Americans, including those who are to be paid the reparations. (In the case of slavery there may be additional compensation owed specifically by the descendants of slaveholders.)

Gathering the historical and genealogical evidence required for reparations for long-past injustices would be a formidable task setting the amounts due would also be challenging, if such a program were instituted.

Feb 12 2021 at 12:26am

Problem: The United States government was not the slaveholder.

Clearly the US did things to defend slavery, such as enforce laws for the return of fugitive slaves. That said, I surmise that the states had laws for recovering stolen property of all kinds escaped slaves were regarded as a kind of stolen property. Thus, the problem arguably arose not from enforcing laws for the return of stolen property, but from the idea that slaves should be property.

And where did that idea arise from? Not the US. Slavery was thoroughly ensconced by 1776 when the US was founded. Indeed, the Constitution provided for the END of importing slaves by 1806(?). Thus, when we study the trans-Atlantic slave trade, we find that the great majority of slaves went to Central and South America, not the US.

Arguably, if I wanted to identify the nation that is responsible for slavery north of Central America–it’s the United Kingdom. So maybe THEY should pay reparations.

John hare
Feb 12 2021 at 4:23am

You make one of the critical points. The US inherited slavery in a world where slavery was normal, it didn’t invent the institution.

Feb 12 2021 at 7:09am

As BC makes the point below, several northern states were early practitioners of making slavery illegal. But if you want to keep the moral blame until there’s more international movement, then just calculate the damages for after 1838 when slaves were emancipated in the British empire.

Feb 12 2021 at 7:44am

Also, has the “everyone else was doing it” defense attained greater weight than when I was a kid? I’ll have to have a talk with my mom about where she went wrong in deciding to discipline me for my antics following group behavior.

Feb 12 2021 at 11:40am

[H]as the “everyone else was doing it” defense attained greater weight than when I was a kid? I’ll have to have a talk with my mom….

I was wondering about this, too. I’d like to ask my mom about it, but she passed away. Alas, she saw Johnny’s mom jumping off a roof and concluded that she should do it, too….

Nicholas Decker
Feb 12 2021 at 3:34am

Slavery cannot exist without state intervention. The United States was responsible for enforcing slavery, and then later for enforcing Jim Crow. This is a sin not expiated by time, but by redress.

Feb 12 2021 at 4:23am

We always talk about slavery being legal in the US, which it was. But, some States were free and others were slave States. Many northern States ended slavery between the Revolutionary War and the ratification of the US Constitution as they migrated from British law to US Constitutional law. If States determined their slavery laws, then wouldn’t the natural political unit for reparations be States, i.e., state governments could pay reparations to descendants of slaves in that state? Slavery was legal in North America, yet no one calls for a US-Canada-Mexico pact to pay reparations to North American slave descendants. Race-based slavery was legal in some parts of the world, and hence legal in the World, yet no one calls for race-based global reparations for slavery.

Canada ended slavery very early around the same time as New England States did. Yet, Canada tolerated slavery in other parts of North America as part of its recognition of US sovereignty and Canada-US relations. Similarly, New England States tolerated slavery in other parts of the US as part of its recognition of other States’ sovereignty as enshrined in the Constitution, which defined States’ relations with each other. If Canada is not responsible for North American slavery, then why would free States be responsible for slave States’ slavery? Note that, eventually, Northern free States did use force to stop slavery in slave States, while Canada never did so. So, actually Northern free States eventually became less tolerant of North American slavery than Canada was.

If the NYPD committed some wrong against a citizen, then NYC might have to pay damages to that citizen. We would not say that because that wrong also occurred in the US, then the US government should actually be held responsible for tolerating NYC sovereignty over its police force.

Feb 12 2021 at 7:40am

Maybe the US isn’t liable but the southern states are. I don’t know. After 1789, the US took on all the debt issued by the separate states, so it seems more of a contractual issue. The US also instituted the Fugitive Slave Act and determined which territories (that later became states) would be slave and free. Seems pretty close to having your fingers in the pie. Just imagine: one state (say, Alabama) has legalized kidnapping and another (say Massachusetts) has not. The kidnap victim runs to Massachusetts. The federal government says, “No, no. Because kidnapping in Alabama is legal, you have to go back to your captor.” Sounds pretty morally blameworthy. The US also enforced contracts ungirded by slaves used as collateral. Not a good look.

“no one calls for race-based global reparations for slavery.” I’ve always thought European powers, Arab groups, and African polities bear lots of moral blame for slavery. They were the ones who enslaved the individuals in the first place.

Your argument is just how far to take the moral blame, but (it seems) you’ve accepted that once we find that scope, then reparations should be paid. David is saying that the continuity of responsibility of governments over time does not exist (whatever the scope of blame) because the people who constitute those polities are not the same as when the sins occurred. I think David is on more solid footing if he just argued against taxation in general, rather than arguing against current taxation to pay for past transgressions. It would seem odd (though not inconsistent) to argue that a 29-year-old’s taxes should not be used to payoff the principal due on 30-year bonds because he wasn’t born at the time of bond issuance.

Feb 12 2021 at 9:25am

Presumably the company is still liable for all debts it actually owed to people who have legal claims. But I am unaware of a contingent liability lasting 6+ generations of a corporation. At a certain point, finality is needed to progress: whether as a corporation, an individual, or a country. Reparations today what tomorrow?

There is also the tricky part of asking whether slavery harmed slave descendants today. I’d be right there with you arguing that former slaves deserved some kind of recompense. They were harmed.

But it seems hard to argue that descendants today were made worse off by slavery. That is, it is on balance better to (i) exist and (ii) live in the US compare to (iii) not existing or (iv) living in Africa.

Now a smart rhetorician would argue that the comparison isn’t between slavery and no-slavery it is between freed slaves with no compensation and freed slaves with compensation. I am not sure why one would cut the analysis off at that point when asking what the consequence of slavery was to descendants today. Moreover, it would seem almost impossible to calculate (e.g., how much wealth actually survives 6+ generations). Finally, it gets back to our finality problem.

Feb 12 2021 at 10:01am

There are many example of 100-year bonds that have been issued by governments and corporations. There are also examples of perpetual bonds (such as consols).

I think you are correct about the thorny issue of what is owed to current day descendants of slaves.

Feb 12 2021 at 12:00pm

….thorny issue of what is owed to current day descendants of slaves.

Oh, we have not yet begun to thorny.

Given the general libertarian flavor of this blog–with the obligatory discussions about whether to attribute actions to groups in addition to individual actors–we might expect people to argue that only those who engaged in the wrongful behavior should compensate only those who were wronged. If we want to extend this to descendants, then we might argue that the descendants of slave owners should pay the reparations to the descendants of slaves.

Given the sexual practices among slave owners, however, there would be a substantial overlap between these groups. NOW we’re talking thorny issues….

Feb 12 2021 at 2:14pm

But with the 100 year bonds, you would have a clear case of Person A passing a non-contingent liability to Person B. There is a chain of custody.

Here, the liability was largely contingent (i.e., the argument is that we have grown to see there should have been remuneration I think Andrew Johnson’s actions make it clear there was no express claim at the time). There hasn’t been a passing of this claim from Person A to Person B.

What I was trying to get at is I am unaware of any situation where Corporation A commits a Tort against Person B, and Person B’s great-great-great-great-grandkids sue Corporation A and win an award.

Feb 12 2021 at 3:10pm
Feb 15 2021 at 10:23am

You cannot connect the actions of individual people to responsibilities that must be undertaken by the US government. Here are some additional reasons why reparations are absurd:

You need to know who captured the human being in Africa and traded it to a slave trader. If the captor was black, as most were, does that make a difference? Should the descendants of black slaves first demand reparations from Africans who remained in Africa and captured them and traded them as slaves? This is just as absurd as the idea of paying white-to-black reparations.
Thomas Sowell has made a case even that aggressive actions taken at the time of the Roman Empire redounded to the benefit of people living in conquered territories — culturally, economically, etc. over time — as these people became part of a civilizing trend. I differ with his understanding of this phenomenon in many instances, but in the case of slavery, this would mean that captive slaves did better in North America than they would have if they had remained in Africa. Does that meant that the descendants of these captives should pay reparations to white people because they are better off in North American than in Africa? It is not more absurd that white-to-black reparations.
The practice of slavery was ended in the West because of the culture of the West — some say, in part, because the impact of Christianity was that the individual soul is a sacrosanct embodiment of divinity (bear the imprint of God). This concept flowered into the concept of individual rights (even if expressed negatively as a prohibition on aggression, the non-aggression principle). That is why the practice of slavery was abolished first in the West, not in Africa or elsewhere. Moreover, the term “slave” itself derives etymologically from the word “Slav.” Why is this important? Because white slavery was just as endemic in the world as any other kind of slavery. Consequently, do the descendants of former black slaves owe reparations to the descendants of Western European culture — most of them white — because they now enjoy the freedoms that stem from this tradition?
Similarly, forms of servitude practiced in Europe into the 19th century — as in the case of “serfs” of one designation or another — applied to many immigrants from Eastern Europe and elsewhere. Do descendants of these serfs — people who migrated to the United States — owe black people reparations even though they themselves may have been in a state of servitude worse than or equal to that of black people who were freed earlier?
Perhaps most conclusively, the attempt to justify reparations of any kind assumes access to total knowledge in a Hayekian way. This “knowledge problem” applies to the calculation of and even the positing of the need for a payment. The “knowledge problem” makes it impossible to even know if a payment must be made and who would be responsible for paying it and receiving it and how much it should be if should exist at all. We simply do not and cannot know all of the relationships and causation factors — positive and negative — that led to the enslavement of people or even who caused them or if they ultimately resulted in a benefit or penalty. Again, I refer to Sowell’s arguments here.

Feb 11 2021 at 10:35pm

Slavery was legal in the United States. It can be argued that the slaves that were freed owe the freers compensation for their misery.

Kevin Erdmann
Feb 11 2021 at 10:50pm

Would your answer be different if she had asked about reparations for redlining, Jim Crow, 20th century massacres, the destruction of black neighborhoods with 20th century transportation infrastructure projects, etc.?

Do you think that question would be on stronger standing or weaker?

Feb 12 2021 at 12:23pm

The problem comes from treating this as some kind of class action suit where the classes are defined by melanin levels. There are people who immigrated to the US from Haiti and from Russia in the last year. How much do you think the ones from Russia owe the ones from Haiti?

Thomas Hutcheson
Feb 12 2021 at 7:15am

Another problem is that slavery harmed not just slaves but everyone who would have benefited over the centuries from the additional output of a non-slave economy.

Feb 12 2021 at 9:19am

In episode 54 of the Bob Murphy Show, economist Murphy explains that all white people that did not own slaves were damaged economically by the practice of slavery, so by the logic of reparations, they, too would need a bailout. Money, money, and more money! Where does one stap?

Feb 12 2021 at 9:35am

I don’t think that follows.

Take a drunk driver for example. They hit you with their car, you’re harmed, but their car is also damaged. The drunk driver is harmed, but it’s a consequence of their own actions. They only have themselves to blame.

Feb 12 2021 at 9:46am

He already clarified this in the qualifier “all white people that did not own slaves”. The benefits accrue to the slaveholders, but not to everyone else.

Feb 12 2021 at 9:44am

Again, the fact that almost everyone was hurt by slavery just addresses the scope of reparations. This is, however, not an argument against reparations, per se. You could argue that reparations should be paid for more direct harm (i.e. that the degrees a person is removed from the harm, the smaller share of reparations he deserves (if I’m not mistaken, this is usually how tort claims work)). But this is very different from David’s argument that (even if the rightful claimants of reparations can be identified and even if the US government at that time can be held responsible), the current US government cannot use current taxes to pay for past transgressions.

Feb 15 2021 at 10:28am

See my longer statement (in the thread from your initial comment) about the absurdity of reparations from a historical viewpoint and as part of the “knowledge problem.”

Feb 12 2021 at 9:30am

Couldn’t the argument be made simpler? That someone is harmed by X or that someone has benefited from X is premised on the counterfactual without X. There is no such counterfactual for these people: The descendants of slaves and slave-owners wouldn’t exist without slavery. Therefore it seems that they can’t be harmed by it or have benefited from it.

Knut P. Heen
Feb 12 2021 at 9:39am

The governments around the world can start by paying reparations to every soldier who has been drafted since the birth of civilization. That is slavery, and the governments have really been the slaveholders.

Feb 12 2021 at 12:19pm

Why not a cash transfer from the American descendants of slaves to the African descendants of those who sold other Africans into slavery? Many descendants of those Africans who were sold are US citizens right now. Many descendants of those Africans who did the selling are living in Africa right now. When the selling happened, clearly the sellers benefited at the great expense of the sold. Today, the descendants of the sellers generally might wish they were the descendants of the sold.

Of course this is rhetorical, but any argument for reparations should start by defining how much worse off the descendants of slaves are compared to how well off they would be if their ancestors had never been enslaved at all.

Feb 12 2021 at 4:47pm

The point seems irrelevant: they wouldn’t exist!

It’s not like the counterfactual of going to MIT or a state school for undergrad. Those are actual options open to you. The option not to have your ancestors enslaved isn’t an option. You exist because your ancestors were slaves.

Vivian Darkbloom
Feb 14 2021 at 1:27pm

Is “affirmative action” (as applied to African Americans) a form of reparations? One of the stated goals of affirmative action is to remedy past discrimination.

Are reparations the answer to America's historic racial wealth gap?

The Stagville Plantation was once one of the largest plantations in North Carolina: 30,000 acres, with more than 900 enslaved people working the land.

A. Kirsten Mullen, a folklorist and arts consultant, and her husband, William Darity, an economics professor at Duke University, visited recently with "Sunday Morning" contributor Mark Whitaker.

Whitaker asked, "When you come to a place like this and you know that you have your own family, your own ancestors, who lived under these conditions, what do you think?"

"I don't know that you're ever prepared for it fully," Mullen replied.

Walking into the slave quarters can be an emotional experience, even for those all-too-familiar with history. "I'm getting ready to cry now," Mullen said. "Didn't see that coming!

"It's just extraordinary to me, the kind of daily abuse, not having control of your life, not being able to control and educate and nurture your own children, I just can't imagine what that was like."

Contributor Mark Whitaker with William Darity and A. Kirsten Mullen visit one of the buildings where some of Stagville Plantation's 900 enslaved workers lived, in Durham, N.C. CBS News

They say when President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 ending slavery those newly-freed were left with nothing. "The former slaveholders were back in control of the properties that they previously had held, and that meant that at a location like Stagville, the land was not distributed to the folks who had worked here," Darity said.

CBS Village

The federal government famously promised those formerly enslaved "40 acres and a mule." That promise was broken, as were many more to come. Mullen and Darity have become leading voices for the argument that, to this day, this country owes a debt to Black Americans: reparations.

"We've even argued that if the 40-acre land grants had been given, we wouldn't need to have a conversation today about reparations for Black American descendants of U.S. slavery," Darity said.

Whitaker asked, "There're a lot of people, when they hear the debate about reparations, they think, 'This was a long time ago. What relation does it have not only to my life and what I've done or haven't done, but to today's economy?'"

"So, we think of slavery in some ways as the first affirmative action program for White people &ndash Free labor, how 'bout it?" Mullen replied.

University of North Carolina Press

As Whites acquired wealth, Blacks were repeatedly shut out, largely denied land by the Homestead Act of 1862, which gave settlers territory out West then, Terrorized by Jim Crow later, discriminated against when it came to the GI Bill after World War II or Social Security benefits, and by redlining and other practices which prevented home ownership.

Darity said, "Our case for reparations is anchored on the cumulative impact of racial injustice in the United States. And they're manifest in a number of atrocities that continue to the present moment, including mass incarceration, including police executions of unarmed Blacks, including ongoing discrimination in employment, credit, and housing markets."

When asked to describe how dramatic is the racial wealth gap, Ray Boshara, senior advisor at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, where he studies inequality, replied, "It's pretty dramatic, Mark. The most recent data we have, 2019, shows that Blacks have about 12 cents in wealth for every $1.00 held by Whites."

The median White household has $184,000 in wealth, while the median Black household has less than $23,000.

Whitaker asked, "Wealth acquisition is cumulative, it happens over generations. So, explain how that is different in Black America versus White America?"

"Wealth begets wealth that's the most fundamental principle here," Boshara said. "In order to have wealth, you have to either get it from your government, or from your family, or from both. And the difference is this: our government, over the course of several centuries, was very active in determining who gets to build wealth, and who does not."

Darity said, "Black Americans, particularly those who have ancestors who were enslaved in the United States, constitute about 12% of the nation's population, but possess less than 2% of the nation's wealth. This leads us into what we think is the appropriate target for a reparations project, which is to bring the Black share of wealth into consistency with the Black share of the population. And we estimate that this would require an expenditure somewhere in the vicinity of $11-12 trillion."

That's more than twice the entire current federal budget, and Darity estimates it would come to just under $300,000 paid to every eligible Black person in the country. It's a big, big price tag, and polling this spring by the University of Massachusetts Amherst/WCVB shows almost two-thirds of Americans aren't buying. Sixty-two percent said the government definitely or probably should not pay reparations, compared to 38 percent who the government definitely or probably should.

Jason Riley, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, told Whitaker, "One of the great accomplishments of the civil rights movement was to get the government to stop picking winners and losers based on race. Reparations would be a step back in that direction. It would be a step backwards."

Riley looks back to the anti-poverty programs more than 50 years ago under President Lyndon Johnson: "We've tried this before. What was the Great Society? If simply redistributing wealth addressed inequality or addressed poverty, we would have solved those things a long time ago."

For the last three decades, a bill has been introduced in Congress every year to form a commission to study reparations. This is the first year it could be headed for a full House vote. It has not attracted support from Republicans. In the Senate, GOP Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said, "I don't think reparations for something that happened 150 years ago for whom none of us currently living are responsible is a good idea."

Cory Booker (D-N.J.) is the sponsor of the Senate version of the reparations study bill.

Whitaker asked, "All you're calling for is a commission &ndashwhy can't you even get the votes for that?"

"Nothing that is worthwhile is easy," Booker replied.

In the meantime, Booker is pushing a plan designed to narrow the wealth gap across all races for future generations, with so-called "baby bonds." He described how it would work. "So, you're born in America, the richest nation in the world. You get $1,000 in an interest-bearing account, and then every year, based upon the wealth of their family, they get money deposited into that. The lowest-income kids are gonna get the full $2,000 compounding. The wealthiest kids, the children of Bill Gates get nothing."

"So, what do economists say? How much of an impact, over what period of time would that have on the wealth gap?"

"So, by the time kids are 18, the lowest-income kids will have about $50,000 to invest in wealth-building things," Booker replied. "The economists say that you will literally &ndash for that generation of children &ndash close the racial wealth gap."

President Biden has indicated his support for a reparations commission. ["We do ourselves no favors by pretending none of this ever happened"], but meanwhile, his administration is working on several tracks: announcing programs aimed specifically at Black Americans, including Black farmers and business-owners, but also anti-poverty programs that are race-neutral.

Whitaker asked Cedric Richmond, a senior advisor to the president, "President Biden went further than any president has ever gone in talking about the racial wealth gap and its historical roots. But he didn't mention the word 'reparations.' Why not?"

"Well, I think the president has said since Day One that one of the things that he wanted to do as a priority was to tackle systemic racism and barriers and address the wealth gap, and we're doing it," Richmond replied.

"How long will it take for the proposals that you're talking about to actually have the effect of allowing Black families to pass on wealth to their children and grandchildren?"

"Well, I think the first thing you have to do is decrease poverty right now. Continue to invest in education, prevent discrimination in homeownership and access to capital. And we think that that is the first meaningful step, so that this generation will have the wealth to pass down to the next generation."

Or maybe the solution to the racial wealth gap is all of the above. "It's what do you do looking back? What do you do ongoing right now? And then how do you look forward?" said Boshara. "And you have to really be working in all three of those areas if you want to make a meaningful dent in the racial wealth gap."

Whitaker asked, "So, paying off the historical debt doesn't necessarily, in and of itself, guarantee closing the gap? Meanwhile, closing the gap wouldn't necessarily mean resolving the debt?"

"This is a problem that has accumulated for centuries. You can't just solve the problem with just one payment, as robust as that might be," Boshara said.

There's the financial reckoning, but also a moral reckoning. Call it reparations or not Booker believes it's more than a matter of dollars and cents: "We are a nation that is still suffering self-inflicted wounds because we have not dealt with that original sin of slavery, and how it still affects us today. It is to all of our self-interest to get at this."

Reparations in the United States

With the superb assistance and encouragement of Lisa Di Valentino, Law Librarian at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst Mary Hubbard, Assistant Director of the Peterborough Library (NH) and Andrew Reiter, Associate Professor of Politics and International Relations, Mount Holyoke College, I have completed a comprehensive review of the reparations payments literature, with regard to the United States, online and in books, articles, and academic journals.

I look forward to hearing about reparations payments that my research missed. Please e-mail me at [email protected]


Reparations are a program of acknowledgement, redress, and closure for a grievous injustice.

From Here to Equality, Reparations for Black Americans in the 21st Century, by William A. Darity, Jr. and A. Kirsten Mullen (p. 2)

Reparations Payments Made in the United States by the Federal Government, States, Cities, Religious Institutions, Universities, and Corporations


1783: Belinda Sutton (also Royal or Royall) was born in modern-day Ghana in 1713, and sold into slavery as a child to Isaac Royall in Massachusetts. After 50 years of enslavement she was made a freedwoman when Royall fled to Nova Scotia. Sutton petitioned the commonwealth of Massachusetts for a pension. In 1783 she was awarded a pension of 15 pounds, 12 shillings, to be paid from the estate of Isaac Royall. (We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy by Ta-Nehisi Coates, p. 176 in the chapter "The Case for Reparations", 2017.)

1863: Over four days In July mobs of white New Yorkers terrorized Black people by roaming the streets from City Hall to Gramercy Park to past 40th Street, setting fire to buildings and killing people. The overall death toll is estimated at between over 100 and over 1,000. Immediately after the riots, the white merchants of New York ("Report of the Merchants' Committee for the Relief of the Colored People Suffering from the Late Riots in the City of New York", 1863 booklet) combined forces to raise money to care for the injured, repair the damaged property, and support the legal and employment needs of the community's Black people. The shopkeepers raised over $40,000, equivalent to $825,000 today. ("The Real Story of the 'Draft Riots'" by Elizabeth Mitchell, The New York Times, February 18, 2021.)

1865: On January 12, in the midst of the Civil War, General William T. Sherman and U.S. secretary of war Edwin M. Stanton met with 20 Black leaders in Savannah Georgia. Four days later, General Sherman issued Special Field Order No. 15 stating that Black people would receive an army mule and not more than forty acres on coastal plains of South Carolina and Georgia. By June, roughly 40,000 Blacks had settled on four hundred thousand acres of land before Confederate landowners, aided by the new Johnson administration, started taking back "their" land. (Secondary source: How To Be An Antiracist (2019) by Ibram X. Kendi, p.174 primary sources cited by Kendi: See The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1895-37-41) "Sherman's Special Field Orders, No.15", in The Empire State of the South: Georgia History in Documents and Essays, ed. Christopher C. Meyers (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2008, 174).)

1866: Southern Homestead Act: "Ex-slaves were given 6 months to purchase land at reasonable rates without competition from white southerners and northern investors. But, owing to their destitution, few ex-slaves were able to take advantage of the program. The largest number that did were located in Florida, numbering little more than 3,000&hellip The program failed."

1878: In 1853, Henrietta Wood was a free black woman living and laboring as a domestic worker in Cincinnati when she was lured across the Ohio River and into the slave state of Kentucky by a white man named Zebulon Ward. Ward sold her to slave traders, who took her to Texas, where she remained enslaved through the Civil War. Wood eventually returned to Cincinnati, and in 1870 sued Ward for $20,000 in damages and lost wages. In 1878, an all-white jury decided in Wood's favor, with Ward ordered to pay $2,500, perhaps the largest sum ever awarded by a court in the United States in restitution for slavery. ("The Ex-Slave Who Sued, and Won" by W. Caleb McDaniel, The New York Times, September 5, 2019.)


1924 : With the Pueblo Lands Act of 1924, Congress authorized the establishment of the Pueblo Lands Board to adjudicate land title disputes, along with a payment of $1,300,000 to the Pueblo for the land they lost (although the Pueblo disputed the amount). (A History of the Indians in the United States by Angie Debo (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1984, p. 335).)

1927 : The Shoshones were paid over $6 million for land illegally seized from them (although it was only half the appraised value of the land). (Race, Racism, and Reparations by J. Angelo Corlett, 2003, Cornell University Press, p. 170.)

1934 : Congress passed the Indian Reorganization Act which authorized $2 million a year in appropriations for the acquisition of land for Indians (except for the state of Oklahoma and the territory of Alaska until 1936). Congress made appropriations until 1941. In total $5.5 million was appropriated for 400,000 acres of land, and further legislation added 875,000 acres to reservations. One million acres of grazing land and nearly one million acres intended for homesteading were returned to the tribes. (A History of the Indians in the United States by Angie Debo (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1984, pp. 228-341).)

1944 : As Attorney General of California, Earl Warren sued the federal government in the Court of Claims on behalf of California's Native Americans after failure to ratify solemn treaties with various tribes. The plaintiffs were eventually awarded $17 million, although after &ldquocosts&rdquo deducted by the federal government, the amount was whittled to $5 million. (&ldquoShort Overview of California Indian History&rdquo by Edward D. Castillo, State of California Native American Heritage Commission, n.d. see also Indians of California by Bureau of Indian Affairs, 1966.)

1946 : Congress created the Indian Claims Commission to hear fraud and treaty violation claims against the United States government. The Commission was adjourned in 1978 with all pending cases transferred to the United States Court of Claims. By this time the Commission had adjudicated 546 claims and awarded more than $818 million in judgments. (A History of the Indians in the United States by Angie Debo (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1984, p. 346).


1950 : The Navajo-Hopi Rehabilitation Act was passed, authorizing an appropriation of $88,570,000 over 10 years for a program benefiting the Navajo and Hopi, including soil conservation, education, business and industry development on reservation, and assistance in finding employment off-reservation. (A History of the Indians in the United States by Angie Debo (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1984, p. 348).)

1956 : The Pawnees were awarded more than $1 million in a suit brought before the Indian Claims Commission for land taken from them in Iowa, Kansas, and Missouri. (Race, Racism, and Reparations by J. Angelo Corlett, 2003, Cornell University Press, p. 170.)

1962 : Georgia restored many Cherokee landmarks, a newspaper plant, and other buildings in New Echota. It also repealed its repressive anti-Native American laws of 1830. (Race, Racism, and Reparations by J. Angelo Corlett, 2003, Cornell University Press, p. 170.)

1968 : In the United States Court of Claims case Tlingit and Haida Indians of Alaska v. United States, the plaintiff tribes won a judgment of $7.5 million as just compensation for land taken by the United States government between 1891 and 1925. (A History of the Indians in the United States by Angie Debo (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1984, p. 399).)

1969 : The Black Manifesto was launched in Detroit as one of the first calls for reparations in the modern era. Penned by James Forman, former SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) organizer, and released at the National Black Economic Development Conference, the manifesto demanded $500 million in reparations from predominantly White religious institutions for their role in perpetuating slavery. About $215,000 (other sources say $500,000) was raised from the Episcopalian and Methodist churches through rancorous deliberations that ultimately tore the coalition apart. The money was used to establish organizations such as a black-owned band, television networks, and the Black Economic Research Center. ("Black and Blue Chicago Finds a New Way to Heal" by Yana Kunichoff and Sarah Macaraeg, YES Magazine, Spring 2017 From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the 21st Century by William A. Darity, Jr. and A. Kirsten Mullen (Chapel Hill, NC: UNC Press, 2020, pp. 14-15).


1970 : Richard Nixon signed into law House Resolution 471 restoring Blue Lake and surrounding area to the Taos Pueblo (New Mexico). The land had been taken by presidential order in 1906. (A History of the Indians in the United States by Angie Debo (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1984, p. 422) see also "Taos Pueblo celebrates 40th anniversary of Blue Lake's return" by Matthew van Buren, Santa Fe New Mexican, September 18, 2010.)

The payments from 1971-1988 are taken from the booklet Black Reparations Now! 40 Acres, $50 Dollars, and a Mule, + Interest by Dorothy Benton-Lewis and borrowed from N&rsquoCOBRA (National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America).

1971 : Around $1 billion + 44 million acres of land: Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

1974 : A $10 million out-of-court settlement was reached between the U.S. government and Tuskegee victims, black men who had been unwitting subjects of a study of untreated syphilis, and who did not receive available treatments. (&ldquoThe Tuskegee Timeline&rdquo, CDC, updated March 2, 2020.)

1980 : $81 million: Klamaths of Oregon. ("Spending Spree" by Dylan Darling, Herald and News (Klamath Falls, OR), June 21, 2005.)

1980 : $105 million: Sioux of South Dakota for seizure of their land. (United States v. Sioux Nation of Indians, 448 U.S. 371 (1980).)

1985 : $12.3 million: Seminoles of Florida. (see Racial Justice in America: A Reference Handbook by David B. Mustard, 2002, ABC-CLIO, p. 81.)

1985 : $31 million: Chippewas of Wisconsin. (see Racial Justice in America: A Reference Handbook by David B. Mustard, 2002, ABC-CLIO, p. 81.)

1986 : $32 million per 1836 Treaty: Ottawas of Michigan. (see Racial Justice in America: A Reference Handbook by David B. Mustard, 2002, ABC-CLIO, p. 81.)

1988 : Civil Liberties Act of 1988: President Ronald Reagan signed a bill providing $1.2 billion ($20,000 a person) and an apology to each of the approximately 60,000 living Japanese-Americans who had been interned during World War II. Additionally, $12,000 and an apology were given to 450 Unangans (Aleuts) for internment during WWII, and a $6.4 million trust fund was created for their communities. ("U.S. pays restitution apologizes to Unangan (Aleut) for WWII Internment," National Library of Medicine.)

1989* : Congressman John Conyers, D-Michigan, introduced bill H.R. 3745, which aimed to create the Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act. The bill was introduced "[to] address the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery in the United States and the 13 American colonies between 1619 and 1865 and to establish a commission to study and consider a national apology and proposal for reparations for the institution of slavery, its subsequent de jure and de facto racial and economic discrimination against African-Americans, and the impact of these forces on living African-Americans, to make recommendations to the Congress on appropriate remedies, and for other purposes." (Preamble)


1993 *, ** : U.S. Congress passed a joint resolution acknowledging and apologizing to Native Hawaiians the illegal United States&ndashaided overthrow of the sovereign Hawaiian nation.

The reparations payments from 1994-2016, with the exception of Virginia Governor Mark Warner&rsquos 2002 apology and Georgetown University&rsquos actions, are taken from "Black and Blue Chicago Finds a New Way to Heal" by Yana Kunichoff and Sarah Macaraeg, YES Magazine, Spring 2017 and Long Overdue: The Politics of Racial Reparations: From 40 Acres to Atonement and Beyond by Charles P. Henry, 2007, NYU Press.

1994 : The state of Florida approved $2.1 million for the living survivors of a 1923 racial pogrom that resulted in multiple deaths and the decimation of the Black community in the town of Rosewood. ("Rosewood Massacre: A Harrowing Tale of Racism and the Road toward Reparations" by Jessica Glenza, The Guardian, January 3, 2016.)

1995** : The Southern Baptists apologized to African American church members for the denomination&rsquos endorsement of slavery.

1997** : President Bill Clinton apologized to the survivors of the U.S. government&ndashsponsored syphilis tests in Tuskegee, Alabama.

1998 : President Clinton signed into law the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Study Site Act, which officially acknowledges an 1864 attack by seven hundred U.S. soldiers on a peaceful Cheyenne village located in the territory of Colorado. Hundreds, largely women and children, were killed. The act calls for the establishment of a federally funded Historic Site at Sand Creek, which was established in 2007.

1999 : A class action lawsuit by black farmers against the United States Department of Agriculture was settled by a consent decree, leading to nearly $1 billion in payments to plaintiffs. The lawsuit alleged systematic racial discrimination in the allocation of farm loans from 1981 to 1996. A further $1.2 billion was appropriated by Congress for the second part of the settlement. (The Pigford Cases, Congressional Research Service, May 29, 2013 see also Learning from the Germans: Race and the Memory of Evil by Susan Neiman (New York: Macmillan, 2019).)

2001 : The Oklahoma legislature passed and Governor Keating signed a bill to pay reparations for the destruction of the Greenwood, Oklahoma, community in 1921 in the form of low-income student scholarships in Tulsa an economic development authority for Greenwood a memorial and the awarding of medals to the 118 known living survivors of the destruction of Greenwood.

2002** : Governor Mark Warner of Virginia issued a formal apology for the state&rsquos decision to forcibly sterilize more than 8,000 of its residents. ("Va. Apologizes to the Victims of Sterilizations" by William Branigin, Washington Post, May 3, 2002.)

2005*,** : The U.S. Senate approved, by voice vote, S.R. 39, which called for the lawmakers to apologize to lynching victims, survivors, and their descendants, several whom were watching from the gallery.

2005 : Virginia, five decades after ignoring Prince Edward County and other locales that shut down their public schools in support of segregation, is making a rare effort to confront its racist past, in effect apologizing and offering reparations in the form of scholarships. With a $1 million donation from the billionaire media investor John Kluge and a matching amount from the state, Virginia is providing up to $5,500 to any state resident who was denied a proper education when public schools shut down. So far, more than 80 students have been approved for the scholarships and the numbers are expected to rise. Several thousand are potentially eligible. (&ldquoA New Hope For Dreams Suspended By Segregation&rdquo, The New York Times, July 31, 2005 by Michael Janofsky.)

2005 : Banking corporation JPMorgan Chase issues an apology for their historical ties to the slave trade. The corporation set up a $5 million scholarship fund for black students to attend college. The scholarship program, called Smart Start Louisiana, was likened to reparations by several commentators, including Rev. Jesse Jackson. ("JPMorgan: Predecessors linked to slavery", January 21, 2005, Associated Press "JP Morgan Chase Creates 'Smart Start Louisiana'", Howard University News Service.)

2007-2008 **: State legislatures in Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, Alabama, New Jersey, and Florida passed measures apologizing for slavery and segregation. (From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the 21st Century by William A. Darity, Jr. and A. Kirsten Mullen (Chapel Hill, NC: UNC Press, 2020, p. 24).)

2008/2009 *,**: U.S. House Resolution 194 and Senate Concurrent Resolution 26 made a formal apology to the African American community for "centuries of brutal dehumanization and injustices." Plus, there was an admission that "African Americans continue to suffer from the complex interplay between slavery and Jim Crow long after both systems were formally abolished through enormous damage and loss, both tangible and intangible, including the loss of human dignity.

* Congressional actions
** apologies from government institutions and other organizations


The reparations payments from 1994-2016, with the exception of Virginia Governor Mark Warner&rsquos 2002 apology and Georgetown University&rsquos actions, are taken from "How Chicago Became the First City to Make Reparations to Victims of Police Violence" by Yana Kunichoff and Sarah Macaraeg, YES Magazine, Spring 2017 and Long Overdue: The Politics of Racial Reparations: From 40 Acres to Atonement and Beyond by Charles P. Henry, 2007, NYU Press.

2014 : The state of North Carolina set aside $10 million for reparations payments to living survivors of the state&rsquos eugenics program, which forcibly sterilized approximately 7,600 people. ("North Carolina Set To Compensate Forced Sterilization Victims" by Scott Neuman, NPR, July 25, 2013 "Families of NC Eugenics Victims No Longer Alive Still Have Shot at Compensation" by Anne Blythe, News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), March 17, 2017.)

2015 : The City of Chicago signed into law an ordinance granting cash payments, free college education, and a range of social services to 57 living survivors of police torture (Burge Reparations). Explicitly defined as reparations, which totaled $5.5 million, the ordinance includes a formal apology from Mayor Rahm Emanuel and a mandate to teach the broader public about the torture through a memorial and public school curriculum.

2016 : Georgetown University has acknowledged that the school has profited from the sale of slaves and has "reconciled" by naming two buildings after African Americans and offer preferred admission to any descendants of slaves who worked at the university.

2016 : The state of Virginia, one of more than 30 other states that practiced forced sterilizations, followed North Carolina&rsquos lead and has since 2016 been awarding $25,000 to each survivor. ("Virginia Votes Compensation for Victims of its Eugenic Sterilization Program" by Jaydee Hanson, Center for Genetics and Society, March 5, 2015.)

2016 : The U.S. government reached a settlement of $492 million with 17 Native American tribes to resolve lawsuits alleging the federal government mismanaged tribal land, resources, and money. (&ldquoU.S. Government To Pay $492 Million To 17 American Indian Tribes&rdquo by Rebecca Hersher, NPR, September 27, 2016.)

2018 : The Supreme Court, in a 4-4 deadlock, let stand a lower court's order to the state of Washington to make billions of dollars worth of repairs to roads, where the state had built culverts below road channels and structures in a way that prevented salmon from swimming through and reaching their spawning grounds, that had damaged the state&rsquos salmon habitats and contributed to population loss. The case involved the Stevens Treaties, a series of agreements in 1854-55, in which tribes in Washington State gave up millions of acres of land in exchange for "the right to take fish." Implicit in the treaties, courts would later rule, was a guarantee that there would be enough fish for the tribes to harvest. Destroying the habitat reduces the population and thus violates these treaties. This decision directly affects the Swinomish Tribe. ("A Victory For A Tribe That&rsquos Lost Its Salmon" by John Eligon, The New York Times, June 12, 2018.)

2019 *: Senator Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, introduced bill S. 1083 (H.R. 40 Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act) in the Senate that would provide for a commission to study and report on the impact of slavery and discrimination against Black Americans and deliver a verdict on different proposals for reparations. The bill "is a way of addressing head-on the persistence of racism, white supremacy, and implicit racial bias in our country. It will bring together the best minds to study the issue and propose solutions that will finally begin to right the economic scales of past harms and make sure we are a country where all dignity and humanity is affirmed." (Press release, April 8, 2019.)

2019 ***: "Students at Georgetown University voted to increase their tuition to benefit descendants of the 272 enslaved Africans that the Jesuits who ran the school sold nearly two centuries ago to secure its future." In a nonbinding student-led referendum, "the undergraduate student body voted to add a new fee of $27.20 per student per semester to their tuition bill, with the proceeds devoted to supporting education and health care programs in Louisiana and Maryland, where many of the 4,000 known living descendants of the 272 enslaved people now reside." ("Ge orgetown Students Agree to Create Reparations Fund " by Adeel Hassan, The New York Times, April 12, 2019.)

2019: Catholic nuns of the Society of the Sacred Heart introduced a scholarship fund to benefit African-American students at their school in Louisiana, along with a memorial to the 150 enslaved persons who labored to build the schools. (Swarns, R. L. (2019, August 2). The nuns who bought and sold human beings. The New York Times Jones, T. L. (2018, March 11). Society of the Sacred Heart hopes for understanding, reconciliation as it delves into its history of slave ownership. The Advocate.)

2019 : The Virginia Theological Seminary has earmarked $1.7 million to pay reparations to descendants of African Americans who were enslaved to work on their campus. The first payments of $2,100, to 15 recipients, were distributed in February 2021. ("Virginia Theological Seminary, With Deep Roots in Slavery, Sets Aside $1.7 Million to Pay Reparations" by Dara Sharif, The Root, September 10, 2019 Wright, W. (2021, May 31). Seminary built on slavery and Jim Crow labor has begun paying reparations. The New York Times.)

2019 : Princeton Theological Seminary announced a $27 million commitment for various initiatives to recognize how it benefited from black slavery. This is the largest monetary commitment by an educational institution. ("WWJD: Princeton Theological Seminary Announces $27 Million Reparations Plan" by Anne Branigin, The Root, October 24, 2019.)

2019 : Georgetown University announced that it would raise about $400,000 a year to benefit descendants of the 272 enslaved people who were sold to aid the college 200 years ago, and the funds will be used to support community projects. While students would be involved in the initiative, they would not be required to pay extra fees the money would be raised through voluntary donations from alumni, faculty, students, and philanthropists. ("Descendants of 272 Slaves Offered Aid By Georgetown" by Rachel Swarns, The New York Times, October 30, 2019.)

2019: A convention of the Episcopal Diocese of New York voted to allocate $1.1 million to initiate a reparations program. (Episcopal Diocese of New York. (2019, November 10). Diocesan Convention votes $1.1 million towards reparations, passes 1860 anti-slavery resolutions.)

2019 : The City Council of Evanston, Illinois, voted to allocate the first $10 million in tax revenue from the sale of recreational marijuana (which became legal in the state on January 1, 2020) to fund reparations initiatives that address the gaps in wealth and opportunity of black residents. "This week's City Council vote appears to have made Evanston the first municipal government in the nation to create and fund its own reparations program." Note: While Chicago created a program to compensate victims of police torture (see above), the reparations were not primarily race-based. (&ldquoFuture Weed Revenue Will Fund Evanston&rsquos New Reparations Program&rdquo by Jonah Meadows, Patch, November 27, 2019 Associated Press. (2021, March 23). Evanston, Illinois, becomes first U.S. city to pay reparations to Black residents. NBC News.)

2020: The Episcopal Diocese of Texas (whose first bishop, Alexander Gregg, was a slave holder) pledged $13 million for a racial justice project. (Downen, R. (2020, February 13). Texas Episcopalians pledge $13M to 'repair and commence racial healing'. Houston Chronicle.)

2020 **: The University of Mississippi has apologized to dozens of African Americans who were arrested in 1970 for protesting racial inequality and Confederate imagery on campus. (&ldquoOle Miss Apologizes to Black Protesters Arrested in 1970&rdquo, Associated Press, February 26, 2020.)

2020 : The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston reached an agreement with the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office to implement policies and procedures, and a $500,000 fund, to address diversity issues. The agreement follows an incident of racial discrimination towards black students visiting the museum in May 2019. ("AG's Office and Museum of Fine Arts Reach Historic Agreement to Support Diversity and Inclusivity", MFA Press Release, May 5, 2020.)

2020: The town of Asheville, North Carolina, voted to give reparations to its black residents, in the form of a public apology and investing in black communities. ("A Liberal North Carolina Town Has Unanimously Voted to Give its Black Residents Reparations" by Anne Branigin. The Root, July 15, 2020.)

2020: California enacts a new law to create a task force to determine how the state could provide reparations to Black Americans and who would be eligible. (Linly, Z. (2020, October 1). California passes bill to consider slavery reparations. The Root.)

2020: At the recommendation of the Racial Equity Task Force, Durham, N.C., city officials passed a resolution calling for the federal government to grant reparations to the descents of Black slaves. (Branigin, A. (2020, October 6). Durham, Washington, D.C., become latest cities to call for reparations for black residents. The Root.)

2020: The "Fund for Reparations Now" was established to raise $150,000 for the descendants of the Elaine, Arkansas massacre in which at least 200 African Americans were killed. The fund is a collaborate effort amongst the Elaine Legacy Center, the National African American Reparations Commission, and the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference. As of December 2020, $50,000 has been contributed to the fund. (National groups honor pledge to descendants of Elaine, Arkansas massacre. (December 15, 2020).)

2021: Memorial Episcopal Church in Baltimore created a fund to spend $100,000 per year over the next five years, for community organizations to do "justice-centered work" to address historical racial inequalities. The church had been founded by slave owners in the 1860s. (Pitts, J. M. (2021, January 29). Episcopal church established by Baltimore slave owners creates $500,000 reparations fund. Baltimore Sun.)

2021: The Jesuit Conference of Priests pledged to raise $100 million for the descendants of enslaved people. This pledge is the largest monetary effort of the Roman Catholic Church to atone for its role in slavery. $15 million has already been deposited into a trust as of March 2021. (Swarns, R. L. (2021, March 15). Catholic order pledges $100 million to atone for slave labor and sales. The New York Times.)

2021*: A Congressional House committee voted to recommend the advancement of bill H.R. 40 (Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act), which would provide for the creation of a commission to study slavery reparations. The bill was introduced by Sheila Jackson Lee, D-TX, and co-sponsored by 184 other House Democrats. (Fandos, N. (2021, April 14). House panel advances bill to study reparations in historic vote. The New York Times.)

* Congressional actions
** apologies from government institutions and other organizations
*** first college students to vote to financially support reparations

Wealth inequality

Wealth and land redistribution

follow these organizations that are leading the fight :

Resource Generation - “envisions a world in which all communities are powerful, healthy, and living in alignment with the planet. A world that is racially and economically just in which wealth, land and power are shared.” Be sure to take their class privilege quiz!

“Soul Fire Farm is a BIPOC-centered community farm committed to ending racism and injustice in the food system.” They have created a reparations map for Black-Indigenous farmers linked below

History of federal reparations in the united states :

Federal reparations for descendants of enslaved Africans :

“The Case for Reparations” by Ta-Nehisi Coates is one of the most cited and recognized resources on the topic of government-based reparations . It is concise, historical, passionate, and you should most certainly read it if you haven’t already.

follow these organizations that are leading the fight:

“Established in April, 2015, the National African American Reparations Commission (NAARC) is a group of distinguished professionals from across the country with outstanding accomplishments in the fields of law, medicine, journalism, academia, history, civil rights and social justice advocacy.They are united in a common commitment to fight for reparatory justice, compensation and restoration of African American communities that were plundered by the historical crimes of slavery, segregation and colonialism and that continue to be victimized by the legacies of slavery and American apartheid.”

“The premiere mass-based coalition of organizations and individuals organized for the sole purpose of obtaining reparations for African descendants in the United States.”

Federal reparations for Indigenous tribes :

Resource Generation is an organization that believes, as we do, that “people who have benefitted from our deeply unjust economic system have a role to play in challenging its future by supporting Resource Generation and the social justice movement.” they published this resource and action guide on Indigenous land reparations and solidarity. check it out!

follow these organizations that are leading the fight:

Native Land Conservancy was founded in 2012 in mashpee, massachusetts, and is the first native-run land conservation group east of the mississippi.

Dream of reparations for slavery full of thorny problems

If the United States made amends for its history of slavery through reparations, would former President Barack Obama be eligible to receive a payment? It’s an interesting question that frames some of the thornier problems with the proposal.

The most obvious issue is that Obama’s father was African, not a descendant of American slaves or raised in African-American culture. Also, his white mother was a descendant of those who held people in bondage, and Obama noted in his autobiography "Dreams from My Father" that there was a family legend he was related to Confederate President Jefferson Davis. From a genealogical perspective, Obama is on the wrong side of history.

This raises the issue of culpability. It is hard to make the case for reparations on an individual basis, because all the people directly involved in American slavery, both victims and culprits, are long since passed on. And parsing out the bloodlines of descendants to determine who is eligible or responsible is not only complicated, it also raises disturbing parallels to the exclusionary logic used by segregationists, not to mention the Nuremberg Race Laws.

Finding collective guilt

The issue becomes a matter of collective victimhood and collective guilt, spanning many generations. But there is no basis for this in American law or tradition. The sins of the parents are not visited on the children, especially after 150 years. Plus, many people have no family connections to the America of those times: More immigrants arrived in the United States in the three decades after the Civil War than had come during the preceding three centuries combined, and even more arrived in the first decade and a half of the 20th century.

A minority of people in a limited number of states actually held slaves. Furthermore, those with ancestors who fought for the Union against slavery — one of Obama's great-great-grandfathers was a decorated Union veteran — may claim to be exempt from the collective responsibility. Some might consider the nearly 600,000 Union casualties to be payment in full. (Not to mention the 2 million additional men who risked their lives in the Union Army to abolish slavery.)

Former President Barack Obama (Photo: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

With respect to payment, estimates of the costs range from the billions to the trillions. Would this be a one-time grant or a continuing annuity? And would the payment be means-tested? Multimillionaires like Obama and other African Americans in upper income groups seem more like representatives of American possibility rather than victims of what writer Ta-Nehisi Coates described as a “relentless campaign of terror.”

But is this issue just about slavery? Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris — also not a descendant of American slaves — argues that the issue is much broader: “America has a history of 200 years of slavery. We had Jim Crow. We had legal segregation in America for a very long time.”

Some reparations proponents acknowledge that culpability for slavery cannot be nailed down specifically, but that the reparations issue is part of a broader debate about social justice and helping the poor. Democratic presidential aspirant Amy Klobuchar said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that “it doesn’t have to be a direct pay for each person. But what we can do is invest in those communities, acknowledge what’s happened.”

Yet hasn’t this been happening already? It is strange to argue that the history of American slavery has not been acknowledged. It is ubiquitous in history curricula and popular culture. The National Park Service is required by law to emphasize the role of slavery in history at its Civil War sites. And community development and other programs designed to ameliorate the impact of systemic racism have been fixtures of the political system at least since the civil rights acts and Great Society programs of the 1960s. When proponents of reparations broaden the issue to that degree, they arrive at arguing for solutions that are already being implemented.

And by detaching the issue from slavery, they open the door to other groups that may feel they have a claim against American society writ large. We saw this when presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren proposed reparations for gay couples based on discrimination in the tax code.

Obama opposed reparations

Even the word “reparation” is problematic. Obama, who did not pursue this issue during his presidency, noted in 2004 that the concept and its implication of a one-time payoff “would be an excuse for some to say we’ve paid our debt” and not continue efforts to promote racial harmony.

It is unlikely that a reparation would repair anything but instead widen the breach. It is more likely to conjure indignation among Americans who will resent being lumped into a class of the collectively guilty for things they never did. Others may see this issue as a cynical political move, Democrats trying to energize the African-American base at a time when employment is at record highs and the Trump reelection campaign is planning a vigorous outreach campaign to minority voters.

Obama’s presidential election in 2008 was symbolic of our national progress and overcoming the issues that reparations proponents want to revisit. He and other successful African Americans are testaments to the opportunities that our country offers everyone regardless of race or ethnicity. Reparations backer Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., called this viewpoint ignorant, but in fact it is informed by the same optimistic view of the country that supports his own pursuit of the Oval Office.

If American society is as racist and stained with collective guilt as Sen. Booker seems to believe, why would he ever think he could win the White House in 2020? Because, to use one of President Obama’s favorite expressions, that’s not who we are.

James S. Robbins, a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors and author of "This Time We Win: Revisiting the Tet Offensive," has taught at the National Defense University and the Marine Corps University and served as a special assistant in the office of the secretary of Defense in the George W. Bush administration. Follow him on Twitter: @James_Robbins

N’COBRA was founded September 26, 1987, for the purpose of spreading information and supporting of the long-term goal of gaining reparations for African Americans. Founders of N’COBRA include National Conference of Black Lawyers, The New Afrikan Peoples Organization, and the Republic of New Afrika. After its founding the organization grew and now has chapters in various parts of the world including Africa, Europe, Central America, South America, and the United States. [1] The work is based on nine national commissions: Economic Development, Human Resources, Legal Strategies, Legislation, Information and Media, Membership and Organizational Development, International Affairs, Youth and Education. [2]

The National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America membership is broken down into three categories: individual members, national and local organizational members and organizational affiliates. There are chapters, members, and affiliates in many different places around the globe. N’COBRA membership is seen in many different parts of the United States and in parts of Africa, Europe, Central and South America, and the Caribbean. [3]

Primary leadership for the organization is handled by a national board of directors.

Legal action Edit

H.R. 40 Edit

H.R. 40 is the Congressional Reparations Study Bill that is introduced by Representatives John Conyers and Shelia Jackson Lee every Congress since 1989 and championed by N'COBRA's Legislative Commission. [4] In 2001, N'COBRA supported H.R.40, entitled Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act. [5] This bill was sponsored by Rep John Conyers Jr. On January 9, 2017, Congressman John Conyers (D-MI), introduced a newly revised HR40 Reparations Bill. [6] It is titled The Commission to Study and Develop Reparations Proposals for African Americans Act. In a press release on the N'COBRA website, Congressman Conyers explained this new bill was drafted to reflect "the advances in the legal and societal discussion of the transatlantic slave trade and reparations. In the past, the focus on the social effects of slavery, segregation and its continuing economic implications remained largely ignored by mainstream analysis. …the call for reparations represents a commitment to entering a constructive dialogue on the role of slavery and racism in shaping present-day conditions both in our community and American society as a whole." [6]

Relationship with Black Lives Matter Edit

In August, 2016, the Movement for Black Lives, a coalition which is tied to the Black Lives Matter movement, released a policy platform based around reparations. [7] The platform listed six demands, comprising 40 policy recommendations, and "seeks reparations for lasting harms caused to African-Americans of slavery and investment in education and jobs." N'COBRA lauded the announcement of this platform as "the first time these black-led organizations linked to the decentralized Black Lives Matter movement have banded together to write a comprehensive foundational policy platform." [7]

What America owes: How reparations would look and who would pay

Some say reparations are needed to restore economic balance.

What America owes descendants of slavery

This report is part of "Turning Point," a groundbreaking month-long series by ABC News examining the racial reckoning sweeping the United States and exploring whether it can lead to lasting reconciliation.

In the early 20th century, Richard Givens, a Black man, toiled as a laborer in a box mill in Greensville County, Virginia.

He earned $300 for the entire year in 1939, according to U.S. Census records, an income Givens had to use to support a family of eight.

That seemingly paltry sum (worth only approximately $5,500 today) was even anemic for the time -- less than the median salary for non-white men ($460) and about a quarter of what white men made at the time ($1,112), according to data from the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census.

That economic gap for Givens, like many of his Black contemporaries, existed 75 years after the end of slavery and persists today. Many say that the existence of that gap has been perpetuated by systemic racism in America -- a combination of laws and institutions that perpetuate inequality -- and necessitates reparations to address those wrongs.

Since the end of slavery, Black Americans have been in a fervent and mostly futile race to catch up economically to their white counterparts. The Black-white wealth gap has been and remains vast -- the net worth of the average white family is 10 times greater than the average Black family, according to a 2016 report from the Brookings Institute.

Moreover, median wealth of Black families remains less than 1/10 of white families in 2020, the Senate Joint Economic Committee found in its report, The Economic State of Black America in 2020.

For over 200 years, colonial America and then the U.S. was a slave state, then, an apartheid state -- with Jim Crow laws in the South and actively racist practices such as redlining -- financial institutions denying mortgages to people of color, or providing mortgages to them only in limited areas usually with homes and properties of low value.

Advocates and experts argue that ongoing systemic racism has placed Black Americans at a disadvantage in everything from obtaining an education to being paid fair wages, purchasing homes, starting businesses and passing down generational wealth -- all components needed to achieve robust economic health.

Some advocates and experts say reparations are the answer. They would not only help eliminate wealth differences caused by systemic racism, but are also "a form of compensation that would amount to healing," William "Sandy" Darity, an economist and professor at Duke University's Sanford School of Public Policy told ABC News.

The topic is controversial. While arguments have been made that reparations to Black descendants of enslaved people could help restore economic balance in the nation, there is the outstanding question of how much should be paid out and to whom.

So what exactly is owed? That depends on which economic expert you ask.

Calculating reparations

Darity and co-author Andrea Kirsten Mullen have a new book, "From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century," that analyzes past estimates for reparation amounts and offers new ones.

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign economist Larry Neal estimated in 1983 that America owed $1.4 trillion in reparations for Black descendants of enslaved people. Neal based this figure on the amount of wages earned by non-enslaved workers between 1620 and 1840, subtracting costs related to the care of slaves (food, housing, care, etc.).

According to Darity and Mullen, that 1983 figure compounded at 4%, 5% and 6% interest by 2019, would be $5.7 trillion, $8.1 trillion and $11.4 trillion, respectively, as per their calculations.

They also suggest there was a major flaw with Neal's calculation: it doesn't take into account the 20 years before the Civil War.

Roger Ransom, a former economics professor at the University of Virginia and the University of California, and Richard Sutch, who was a professor emeritus of economics at the University of California, before his death in 2019, based their calculation on the profit from slavery between 1806 and 1860. Their method, compounded at interest rates of 4%, 5% and 6% in 2018, would amount to $14 billion, $19.7 billion, and $27.7 billion, Darity and Mullen figured. But they also cited flaws with Ransom and Sutch's methodology. They argue that the calculation doesn't account for the first 30 years of slavery in the country, it omits profit from the slave trade, and charges the enslaved for their own maintenance costs, resulting in "the lowest bill for black reparations among those we examine," Darity and Mullen write in their book.

One of the more complex calculations is by Thomas Craemer, a professor of public policy at the University of Connecticut. He multiplied the "prevailing market wage" by the number of hours enslaved people worked (assuming a 24-hour work day) between the years 1776 and 1865. That model, calculated for 2019 at 4%, 5% and 6% interest rates, works out to $16.4 trillion, $17 trillion and $17.7 trillion, respectively.

The problem with Craemer's calculation, according to Darity and Mullen, is that it relies on "the market wage for non-slave labor" rather than "the hypothetical non-slave labor wage that would have prevailed in the absence of captive enslaved Africans." This yields a slightly lower calculation as per Darity and Mullen.

Therefore, Darity and Mullen came up with their own calculation based on net worth. They cite the gap in mean household wealth by race, which was $795,000, according to the 2016 Survey of Consumer Finances.

"If the average black household consists of 3.31 persons," Darity and Mullen write in their book, "the mean shortfall in wealth for individual black Americans would have been approximately $240,000."

Next, they multiplied $795,000 by the U.S. Census Bureau's estimate of 10 million Black households, arriving at a reparations bill of $7.95 trillion.

They also offer an alternative calculation. The Black population comprises about 13% of the American population. The nation's total household wealth reached $107 trillion by the second quarter of 2018. Thirteen percent of that amount is $13.91 trillion. As Black Americans are estimated to hold at most, 3% of the nation's wealth, according to Census data, that amounts to $3.21 trillion.

Eliminating the difference in household wealth, "would require a reparations outlay of $10.7 trillion" or, $267,000 per person for the 40 million eligible Black descendants of slavery, Darity and Mullen write.

Eligibility, Darity said, can be established through genealogical research to find out if one's ancestors were held as chattel, a task some say is impractical, including Congressman Jim Clyburn, one of the highest-ranking House Democrats who said in an interview that he feared reparations "would lead to contested debates about who would be eligible due to the sprawling family trees that have evolved in the generations since slavery was abolished."

Watch the video: The History of Reparations