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Reparations for Economic Damages of Slavery

2016-05-20

Much has been spoken and written on the subject of reparations.  Some people suggest that it is not fair to ask current societies, peoples, and governments to make amends in monetary terms for the economic costs of slavery, which was abolished in the United States in 1860-1865, with only partial effect in the Southern States until the 1960’s.

These arguments have been hypothetical, but here is a concrete example of economic values that can be documented: in 1838, Georgetown University was forced to sell a number of their slaves to pay off a huge debt that would have otherwise put them out of operation.   Georgetown was run by the religious order of Jesuits, but it still required cash to operate.  The sale was documented with the dollar amounts received and the names of the slaves sold, and to whom, is known.   They were sold to owners in Louisiana, and the conditions under which they were held deteriorated.    The great-great-great-grandchildren of these slaves are known and their ancestry has been confirmed with documents.

For example, the slaves Bill and Mary Ann Hill have a great-great-grandson named Charles Hill, who is 74 years old.  He had this to say about what the current Georgetown University administration might need to do to make reparations for the sale of his great-great-grandparents: (from this NYT article)

What should Georgetown do? Put up a monument with our forefathers’ names on there. Give some scholarships to the kids. I’m 74. I’m on my way out of this world. If I could leave something behind to educate my grandkids, that’s what I would like to do.

That’s not much, is it?  Symbolic recognition that something happened a long time ago that we would do differently now.  It reminds me of the man in Germany who has a years-long project that produces small bronze plaques that he affixes to the sidewalk in front of houses from which Jews were removed by the Nazis, with the names of the victims, so people can remember something that happened a long time ago that shouldn’t have happened.

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