Mary Frances Berry is a former chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and currently a Professor of History at University of Pennsylvania – among many other things. Berry’s 2006 book, My Face Is Black Is True: Callie House and the Struggle for Ex-Slave Reparations, chronicles the life and times of Callie House, a Tennessee ex-slave who had been born into slavery at the outset of the Civil War. Berry meticulously details the universal and grinding poverty faced by House and virtually all other ex-slaves and their children. House, despite the simultaneous rise of Jim Crow and the Ku Klux Klan, organized hundreds of thousands of black people into a sustained national movement which demanded federal government compensation for blacks’ 246 years of free labor provided to this country.
This is written for those who argue against reparations for slavery on the grounds that slavery happened oh so very – too – long ago to be a rational idea; for those who contend that no living black people were slaves; who argue that no living white people were slave owners; for people who insist, therefore, that the time to ask for slavery reparations has long since passed. And, anyway, why didn’t the ex-slaves themselves demand reparations/compensation?