By Dr. Conrad W. Worrill (March 16, 2000)

Since David Walker’s famous Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World was released in 1829, African people in America have been demanding reparations.

In the February 1997 issue of Essence Magazine, in an article titled "Righting A Wrong," it pointed out that "The call for reparations in the United States started before slavery’s end and has ebbed and flowed since. With each white backlash that follows any period of African American social and political gain, the clamor for reparations comes to fore."

The most important organization that has been leading the Reparations Movement over the last decade has been the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (N`COBRA).

N`COBRA, under the leadership of National Co–Chairs Dorothy Benton Lewis and Hannibal Afrik, have helped develop over thirty–two chapters of N`COBRA throughout the United States. Through the work of N`COBRA, the general level of commitment to the Reparations Movement has intensified to the extent that the discussion of reparations has become common place throughout the African Community in America.

N`COBRA is currently planning for its Eleventh Annual Reparations Conference that will be held at Howard University in Washington, D.C., June 14 – 20, 2000. One of the major focuses of this year’s conference will be to lobby the Congress of the United States to support Congressman John Conyers HR40 Reparations Study Bill that has not received the votes necessary for this bill to move forward.

Additionally, N`COBRA at its last National Conference in June of 1999, in St. Louis, MO, elected its Economic Development Commissioners, from regions throughout the country whose charge is to "work with the Foundational Economic Development Commission to implement the following objectives:"

    1. First, the Commissioners have the responsibility to accelerate the demand for reparations, particularly the down payments demands by demonstrating both our right to reparations and our need for reparations as we mobilize our people for the mass action needed to make the United States pay reparations.
    2. Second, the Commissioners are responsible for taking the lead in refining the forms in which reparations will take place, in terms of the value amounts and the manner and time frame of payments.
    3. Third, the Commissioners, local and national, are responsible for planning how we would use reparations to benefit our people, focusing particularly, at first, on the down payment demands.

It is always important for us to remind ourselves of what we mean when we use the term reparations.

Reparations simply means repair of damages inflicted on a people.

Africans were captured, transported to and enslaved in the United States by white men and women. We were made into chattel and worked for more than 300 years without pay or other compensation. For the value of their labor, the white man and white woman stole and criminally appropriated the services of African people and then passed them on through inheritance to their children. This process helped create the United States of America.

Other aspects of the Reparations Movement that has helped the movement gain momentum is the leadership that Representative Don Ross has played in initiating legislation to set up the Tulsa, Oklahoma 1921 Race Riot Commission that has successfully documented the record of events of the riot and is considering legislation for reparations to the survivors and descendants.

Recently on March 10th – 12th, Representative Ross was invited to Chicago by Rev. Al Sampson, Pastor of Fernwood United Methodist Church / N`COBRA Economic Development Commissioner to share with the African Community of Chicago what occurred in Tulsa and the significance of the legislation. The week end of activities was supported by the Black United Fund of Illinois, N`COBRA Chicago Chapter, NBUF Chicago Chapter, the Metropolitan Area Planning Corporation, and the Illinois News Newspaper. It was a very successful weekend of activities.

In this connection, inspired from the work of Representative Ross in establishing the Tulsa Riot Commission, State Senator Donne Trotter has submitted legislation to establish the Illinois Riot and Reparations Commission focusing on the 1917 Riot in East St. Louis, Illinois, and the 1919 Riots in Chicago.

Senator Trotter, Representative Wyetter Younge, Representative Lu Jones, Representative Constance Howard, and Representative Harold Murphy participated in the weekend activities and support the legislation. Representative Younge presented a paper on the 1917 East St. Louis Riots at a community forum.

We just received a bill from Representative Ed Vaughn of Detroit, Michigan to establish a Commission in the State of Michigan to study reparations proposals for African people in America.

On March 15, 2000, Alderwoman Dorothy Tillman introduced a Reparations Resolution to the Chicago City Council aimed at setting up hearings on reparations. Twenty–five City Council members signed the resolution.

As one of the elected N`COBRA Economic Development Commissioners, we will continue to work diligently to make the demand for reparations become a reality. We owe it to our ancestors!

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