REPARATIONS TESTIMONY IN NASHVILLE!

Summary of the testimony presented by Dr. Conrad W. Worrill in support of Tennessee Representative Henri E. Brooks’ Resolution to create a special commission to conduct a study relative to reparations proposal for African Americans — April 11, 2001.

Historical Background

It is historically important that this Committee review with sincerity and sensitivity the issue of Reparations for African people in the United States and Tennessee specifically; a people who have suffered the worst Maafa in human history.

African people, throughout the world, have united around the resolution being presented at the upcoming United Nations World Conference Against Racism, that the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade was a Crime Against Humanity, thus African people are owed compensation, i.e. reparations worldwide. The conference will be held in Durban, South Africa from August 31st through September 7, 2001.

At the recent African Regional Preparatory Conference, for the World Conference Against Racism, held in Dakar, Senegal (January 22-24, 2001), the African Ministers and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s) developed what has been called the Dakar Declaration. In their deliberations, they affirmed, in part, the following, that the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade was a Crime Against Humanity, thus African people are owed compensation, i.e., reparations worldwide.

We must be clear that reparations, which comes from the Latin word reparare meaning repair, is a Movement, which seeks to identify and redress those wrongs, so that the countries and people that suffered will enjoy full freedom to continue their own development on more equal terms. In this context, when we talk about Reparations for African people in America, we are addressing reparations for the forced slave labor and destruction of humanity, culture, legacies, names, language that was disrupted by the forceful imposition and violent intrusion of white slave traders, slave merchants, and white captive slaveowners.

It is without argument that African people in America were captured, transported to, and enslaved in the United States by white people. We were turned into chattel and worked for more than 300 years without pay, or other compensation. For the value of our labor, white people criminally appropriated the services of slaves and their labor. The profits were then passed on through inheritance to their families and children. This process helped create the United States of America.

In a paper presented at the second Plenary Session of the First Pan African Conference on Reparations held in Abuja, Nigeria on April 27, 1993, renowned historian and scholar Chinweizu wrote;

Chinweizu listed numerous reparations paid to peoples from Southern Chile to reparations paid to German Jews. Chinweizu stated, "With such precedents of reparations to non-black peoples in four continents, it

would be sheer racism for the world to discountenance reparations claims from the Black World."

 

The Forty Acres Sell Out

At the conclusion of the Civil War, the original Freedman’s Bureau Act, passed by Congress on March 3, 1865, granted land "to every male citizen, whether refugee or freedman, as aforesaid, there shall be assigned not more than forty acres of such land, and the person to whom it was so assigned shall be protected in the use and enjoyment of the land for the term of three years at an annual rent not exceeding six per centum the value of such land…At the end of said term, or at any time during said term, the occupants of any parcels so assigned may purchase land…"

The following month, five days after the Confederacy’s surrender, President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. His successor, Andrew Jackson, vetoed an amended Freedman’s Bureau Act in February 1866, which still called for "loyal refugees and freedman," but changed the terms so the bureau’s commissioner could determine the cost of rent and returning whites could repossess their Black owned land.

The Freedman’s Bureau Act that finally became law in July 1866 made no mention of forty acres. To the contrary, it called for restoring land— about 850,000 acres of abandoned and confiscated real estate— to former white owners, many of whom had been accused of being traitors to the Union, but were pardoned by President Johnson.

 

Tennessee and the Reparations Movement

The current phase of the Reparations Movement is connected to the leadership of Sister Callie House of Tennessee, who founded the National Ex Slave and Mutual Relief Bounty and Pension Association in the 1890’s in reaction to the "40 acres and mule" sell out. Her principal associate in this work for about a decade was the Reverend Isiah H. Dickerson. During this period, working through meetings, literature, and traveling agents, the organization successfully developed membership across the South. The Association’s principal office was here in Nashville, but they maintained a press operative in Washington, D.C.

The objective of Sister House’s organization was to organize a demand throughout the African Community in this country to force the United States to provide the needed, as well as deserved pensions they sought for the aging persons formerly held in slavery, their surviving spouses, care givers, and heirs. U. S. officials indicted Ms. House and a number of other members, at Nashville, for fraud for using the mail to distribute one of the Association’s carefully drawn leaflets. She was found guilty and sentenced to a year and a day in the federal prison at Jefferson City. This was October 1917. Tennessee should honor the great Reparations leadership of Callie House and acknowledge that the National Ex Slave and Mutual Relief Bounty and Pension Association was the first massed based Reparations Movement in this country under her leadership.

 

Tennessee and the Ku Klux Klan

In Professor John Hope Franklin’s classic book Reconstruction After The Civil War, he describes the founding of the Ku Klux Klan in Pulaski, Tennessee in 1865. Franklin explains, "If radical governments were to be placed in power by "Negro votes" and were to be kept there by "Negro militias" they invited opposition by every means, including violence, at the disposal of the former confederates."

Professor Franklin reveals, "In the spring of 1867 delegates from several states met at a convention in Nashville, placed General Nathan B. Forrest at the head of the organization as the Grand Wizard, and sent its members back to their respective homes fired with a determination to nullify the program of congressional reconstruction that was getting under way."

 

Lynching In Tennessee

In Ralph Ginzburg book, 100 Years of Lynchings, he documents the hundreds of African people lynched in Tennessee toward the latter part of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century. Many of them were lynched at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan. None of those accused of lynching Black people were convicted for their crimes of murder, although it was generally known and documented that the Klan was involved in these lynchings in Tennessee, as well as other states throughout the South.

 

Conclusion

As Professor John Hope Franklin has pointed out in response to David Horowitz’s ads— "Most living Americans do have a connection with slavery. They have inherited preferential advantage, if they are white, or the loathsome disadvantage if they are Black; and those positions are virtually as alive today as they were in the 19th century. The pattern of housing, the discrimination in employment, the resistance to equal opportunity in education, the racial profiling, the inequities in the administration of justice, the low expectation of Blacks in the discharge of duties assigned to them, the widespread belief that Blacks have physical prowess but little intellectual capacities, and the widespread opposition to affirmative action, as if that had not been enjoyed by whites for three centuries, all indicate that the vestiges of slavery are still with us."

Professor Franklin provides a clear and concise rationale as to why Representative Brooks’ Commission to Study Reparations should be enthusiastically supported.

Again, Professor Franklin states until we address what really happened during slavery to African people "we will (continue to) suffer from the inability to confront the tragic legacies of slavery and deal with them in a forthright and constructive manner."

  
National Chairman
National Black United Front (NBUF)


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