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The First Demand for Slave Reparations

Herb Dyer

  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?

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.