THE TACTIC OF LAWSUITS AND THE REPARATIONS MOVEMENT

By Dr. Conrad W. Worrill (April 12, 2002)

In Durban, South Africa this past summer, the United Nations World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) declared that the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade and Slavery was a Crime Against Humanity and that reparations were owed to African people.

This declaration was the result of the organizing work of African Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s) and African Governments who were united in their resolve in lobbying to insure the WCAR would, in fact, declare the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade a Crime!

When someone has committed a crime against a people, such as the crimes committed against African people in the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade and Slavery, it becomes the responsibility of those that the crimes were committed against to use all available tactics to avenge these crimes.

In this connection, activists and organizations, such as the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (N`COBRA), have been researching and planning to use the tactic of filing reparation lawsuits to help advance the Reparations Movement in America.

Atty. Deadria Farmer-Paellmann, and other plaintiffs, "seeking unspecified reparations for the 35 million descendants of African slaves— against the Aetna Insurance Company, FleetBoston Financial Corporation, and railroad giant CSX Corp.," have recently filed three such federal lawsuits.

As we build towards the Millions For Reparations Rally that will be held on August 17, 2002 in Washington, D.C., it is important, in our mobilizing efforts, to use every available tactic to heighten the discussion of reparations for African people in America. The filing of this recent lawsuit, and others that are planning to be filed, is one such tactic that is helping fuel the Reparations Movement.

International law supports the position that the enslavement of Africans was a crime against humanity. The Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal defined crimes against humanity as, "Murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, and other inhumane acts committed against any civilian population…whether or not in violation of the domestic law of the country where perpetuated."

It is without question that a historical war was inflicted against African people. This war continues under the system of white supremacy that still makes "the Black skin [a] badge of contempt in the world today, as it has been for nearly 2,000 years."

The lawsuit strategy will provide "Historians and their experts [an opportunity to] show, without difficulty, how the invasions of African territories, the mass capture of Africans, the horrors of the middle passage, the chattelization of Africans in America, and the extermination of the language and culture of the transported Africans, constituted violations of all these international laws."

Those of us in the Black Liberation Movement were pleased to discover that one of the law firms representing Atty. Deadria Farmer-Paellmann is the Law Firm of Thomas, Wareham, and Richards. Atty. Roger Wareham, a member of this firm, is one of the leading Black activists and lawyers in America and is a member of the December 12th Movement. Atty. Wareham was one of the leaders of the Durban 400.

In their lawsuit, the plaintiffs claim, in part, some of the following facts:

    1. Over 8,000,000 Africans and their descendants were enslaved in the United States from 1619 to 1865. The practice of slavery constituted an immoral and inhumane deprivation of Africans’ life, liberty, African citizenship rights, cultural heritage and it further deprived them of the fruits of their own labor.
    2. FleetBoston Financial Corporation, Aetna Inc., CSX, through their predecessors-in-interest, conspired with slave traders, with each other and other entities and institutions and other un-named entities and/or financial institutions to commit and/or knowingly facilitate crimes against humanity, and to further illicitly profit from slave labor.
    3. African Americans are more likely to go to jail, to be there longer, and if their crime is eligible, to receive the death penalty. They lag behind whites according to every social yardstick: literacy, life expectancy, income and education. They are more likely to be murdered and less likely to have a father at home.
    4. The post-Reconstruction Southern practices of peonage and sharecropping which continued well into the twentieth century were direct outgrowths of slavery that continued a system of complete control by the dominant culture. Peonage was a complex system where a black man would be arrested for "vagrancy," ordered to pay the fine he could not afford, and then incarcerated. A plantation owner would then pay the fine and then hire him until he could afford to pay off the fine. The peon was forced to work, locked up at night and if he escaped, was chased by bloodhounds until recaptured.

When you read the Farmer-Paellmann Lawsuit, you become engrossed in the tremendous research revealed. This research is the continuation of a long struggle on the part of researchers, scholars, and activists to clearly assemble the facts relative to our enslavement in America and its continued impact. The lawsuit tactic must be supported as we prepare for the Millions For Reparations Mass Rally on August 17, 2002 in Washington, D. C. It’s Our Turn!

 
National Chairman
National Black United Front (NBUF)


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