Reparations for slavery

Ta-Nehisi Coates Atlantic slave trade Compensated emancipation

Reparations for slavery is the application of the concept of reparations to victims of slavery and/or their descendants. There are concepts for reparations in legal philosophy and reparations in transitional justice. Throughout history reparations for slavery have been both given by legal ruling in court and/or given voluntarily (without court rulings) by individuals and institutions[1]. Reparations can take numerous forms, including: individual monetary payments, settlements, scholarships, waiving of fees, and systemic initiatives to offset injustices, land-based compensation related to independence, apologies and acknowledgements of the injustices,[1] token measures, such as naming a building after someone, or the removal of monuments and renaming of streets that honor slave owners and defenders of slavery.[2][3]

There are many instances of reparations for slavery relating to the Atlantic slave trade dating back to the at least 1783 in North America[1], with a growing list of modern day examples of Reparations for slavery in the United States in 2020 as the call for reparations in the US has been bolstered by protests around police brutality and other cases of systemic racism in the US.[4] Recently in the US, the call for reparations for racism has been made along side calls for reparations for slavery.[5][2]

Despite many calls for reparations, examples of international reparations for slavery consist of recognition of the injustice of slavery and apologies for involvement but no material compensation.[6][7]

United States

Slavery ended in the United States in 1865 with the end of the American Civil War and the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which declared that, "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction".[8] At that time, an estimated four million African Americans were set free.[9]

Support for reparations

Within the political sphere, only one major bill demanding slavery reparations has been proposed at the national level, the "Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act," which former Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-MI) proposed unsuccessfully to the United States Congress every year from 1989 until his resignation in 2017.[10] As its name suggests, the bill recommended the creation of a commission to study the "impact of slavery on the social, political and economic life of our nation".[11], however there are cities and institutions which have initiated their own reparations in the US (see § Examples of Slavery Related Reparations in the US for a list).

In 2014, prominent American journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates published an article titled "The Case for Reparations", which discussed the continued effects of slavery and Jim Crow laws and made renewed demands for reparations. Coates makes reference to Rep. John Conyers Jr.'s aforementioned H.R.40 Bill, pointing out that Congress's failure to pass this bill expresses a lack of willingness to right their past wrongs.[12]

In September 2016, the United Nations' Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent encouraged Congress to pass the aforementioned H.R.40 Bill to study reparations proposals, but the Working Group did not directly endorse any specific reparations proposal. The report noted that there exists a legacy of racial inequality in the United States, explaining that, "Despite substantial changes since the end of the enforcement of Jim Crow and the fight for civil rights, ideology ensuring the domination of one group over another, continues to negatively impact the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of African Americans today." The report notes that a "dangerous ideology of white supremacy inhibits social cohesion among the US population".[13]

In 1999, African-American lawyer and activist Randall Robinson, founder of the TransAfrica advocacy organization, wrote that America's history of race riots, lynching, and institutional discrimination have "resulted in $1.4 trillion in losses for African Americans".[14] Economist Robert Browne stated the ultimate goal of reparations should be to "restore the black community to the economic position it would have if it had not been subjected to slavery and discrimination". [15] He estimates a fair reparation value anywhere between $1.4 to $4.7 trillion, or roughly $142,000 (equivalent to $153,000 in 2019) for every black American living today.[15] Other estimates range from $5.7 to $14.2[16] and $17.1 trillion.[17] Rapper T>I. supports reparations that give every African American $1,000,000 and that slavery caused mass incarations, poverty and other ills[18]

The topic became a major issue in 2020 due to the Black Lives Matter movement naming reparations as one of their policy goals in the United States.[19]

2020 presidential candidate endorsement for reparations

Andrew Yang said that he supports HR40, the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act, sponsored by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee,[20] while speaking on the Karen Hunter show.[21]

In January 2019, Marianne Williamson detailed a plan for reparations in an interview for Ebony Magazine.[22]

Senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker have both indicated some level of support for reparations, according to NPR.[23]

Tulsi Gabbard is a cosponsor of H.R.40, the only piece of legislation in Congress to study and develop reparations proposals[24] and Bernie Sanders is a co-sponsor for the Senate version of the bill.[25]

Kamala Harris declared in April 2019 she supports reparations.[26]

Beto O'Rourke is "open to considering some form of reparations," according to U.S. News & World Report.[27][28][29]

Tom Steyer in the 2020 Democratic Primaries Debate in South Carolina voiced his support for reparations.[citation needed]

Opposition to reparations

Opposition to slavery reparations is reflected in the general population. In a study conducted by YouGov in 2014, only 37% of Americans believed that slaves should have been provided compensation in the form of cash after being freed. Furthermore, only 15% believed that descendants of slaves should receive cash payments. The findings indicated a clear divide between black and white Americans on this issue. The study summarized their findings, noting: "Only 6% of white Americans support cash payments to the descendants of slaves, compared to 59% of black Americans. Similarly, only 19% of whites – and 63% of blacks – support special education and job training programs for the descendants of slaves."[30]

In 2014, in response to Ta-Nehisi Coates's article, "The Case for Reparations", conservative journalist Kevin D. Williamson published an article titled "The Case Against Reparations." In it, Williamson argues: "The people to whom reparations are owed are long dead".[31]

Another article opposing reparations to slavery was also published in 2014 by Canadian-American neoconservative political commentator David Frum.[citation needed]

United Kingdom

The African Reparations Movement, also known as ARM UK, was formed in 1993 following the Abuja Proclamation declared at the First Pan-African Conference on Reparations, in Abuja, Nigeria in the same year. The conference was convened by the Organisation of African Unity and the Nigerian government. On 10 May 1993 Bernie Grant MP, tabled a motion in the House of Commons that the House welcomes the proclamation and recognised that the proclamation "calls upon the international community to recognise that the unprecedented moral debt owed to African people has yet to be paid, and urges all those countries who were enriched by enslavement and colonisation to review the case for reparations to be paid to Africa and to Africans in the Diaspora; acknowledges the continuing painful economic and personal consequences of the exploitation of Africa and Africans in the Diaspora and the racism it has generated; and supports the OAU as it intensifies its efforts to pursue the cause of reparations." The motion was sponsored by Bernie Grant, Tony Benn, Tony Banks, John Austin-Walker, Harry Barnes, and Gerry Bermingham. An additional forty-six Labour Party MPs signed to support the motion including former leader of the opposition Jeremy Corbyn.[32]

The Abuja Proclamation called for national reparations committees to be set up throughout Africa and the Diaspora. Bernie Grant formed ARM UK as the co-founder and chairperson, with a core group including: secretary, Sam Walker; treasurer Linda Bellos and trustees Patrick Wilmott, Stephen Small, Dorothy Kuya and Hugh Oxley. The aims of the organisation were to:

Following the death of Bernie Grant in 2000 ARM UK became inactive. [34]

In 2004 descendants of Africans enslaved in America enlisted lawyer Ed Fagan in a class action lawsuit against insurance market Lloyd's of London, among other British and American corporations, stating that by insuring and financing the slaving ships they were complicit in genocide.[35][36] The case was not successful.[37] In Jamaica in 2004, a coalition of Rastafari movement and the Berber Moors[better source needed] who claim to have built the infrastructure of nations but never fully got paid for their building knowledge, and other groups argued that European countries formerly involved in the slave trade, especially Britain, should pay 72.5 billion pounds sterling to resettle 500,000 Jamaican Rastafarians in Africa. The claim was rejected by the British government, which said it could not be held accountable for wrongs in past centuries.[38]

On 27 November 2006, British Prime Minister Tony Blair made a partial apology for Britain's role in the African slavery trade. However African rights activists denounced it as "empty rhetoric" that failed to address the issue properly. They feel his apology stopped shy to prevent any legal retort.[7] Blair again apologized on 14 March 2007.[39]

On 24 August 2007, Ken Livingstone (then Mayor of London) apologized publicly for London's role in the slave trade. "You can look across there to see the institutions that still have the benefit of the wealth they created from slavery", he said pointing towards the financial district, before breaking down in tears. He claimed that London was still tainted by the horrors of slavery. Jesse Jackson praised Mayor Livingstone, and added that reparations should be made.[40]


In 1999, the African World Reparations and Repatriation Truth Commission called for the West to pay $777 trillion to Africa within five years.[41]

In September 2001, the United Nations sponsored the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance held in Durban, South Africa. The Durban Review Conference sponsored a resolution stating that the West owed reparations to Africa due to the "racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance" that the Atlantic slave trade caused.[42] [43][44]Leaders of several African nations supported this resolution. The former Minister of Justice of Sudan, Ali Mohamed Osman Yassin, stated that the slave trade is responsible for the current problems plaguing Africa.



Having attained its independence from France in 1804 through a brutal and costly war, the case for reparations to Haiti was tenable. Shortly thereafter, France would demand that the newly founded Haiti pay the French government and slaveholders 90 million francs for the "theft" of the slaves' own lives (Compensated emancipation) and the land that they had turned into profitable sugar and coffee-producing plantations in order to formally recognize the fledgling nation's independence.[45] This debt was financed by French banks and the American Citibank, and finally paid off in 1947.[46] This century long extortion inflicted upon Haiti by her former colonizer would provide further grounds for a modern day discussion regarding possible reparations.

In 2003, then-President of Haiti Jean-Bertrand Aristide demanded that France compensate Haiti for over $21 billion, the modern equivalent of the 90 million gold francs Haiti was forced to pay to gain international recognition.[47][48]

Commonwealth Caribbean

In 2007, Guyana President Bharrat Jagdeo formally called on European nations to pay reparations for the slave trade.[49] President Jagdeo stated, "Although some members of the international community have recognized their active role in this despicable system, they need to go step further and support reparations."[49] In 2014, the Parliament of Guyana established a "Reparations Committee of Guyana" to further investigate the impact of slavery and create formal demands for reparations.[50]

In 2011, Antigua & Barbuda called for reparations at the United Nations, saying "that segregation and violence against people of African descent had impaired their capacity for advancement as nations, communities and individuals".[51] More recently, in 2016, Ambassador of Antigua and Barbuda to the United States, Sir Ronald Sanders, called on Harvard University "to demonstrate its remorse and its debt to unnamed slaves from Antigua and Barbuda." According to Sanders, Isaac Royall Jr., who was the first endowed professor of law at Harvard, relied on the slaves on his plantation in Antigua when establishing Harvard Law School. Sanders recommended these reparations come in the form of annual scholarships for Antiguans and Barbudans.[52]

In 2012, Jamaica revived its reparations commission, to consider the question of whether the country should seek an apology or reparations from Britain for its role in the slave trade.[38] The opposition cited Britain's role in the end of the slave trade as a reason that Britain should issue no reparations.

Also in 2012, the Barbados government established a twelve-member Reparations Task Force, to be responsible for sustaining the local, regional and international momentum for reparations.[53][54] Barbados is reportedly "currently leading the way in calling for reparations from former colonial powers for the injustices suffered by slaves and their families."[55][56]

In 2013, in the first of a series of lectures in Georgetown, Guyana, to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the 1763 Berbice Slave Revolt, Principal of the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies, Sir Hilary Beckles urged Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries to emulate the position adopted by the Jews who were persecuted during the Second World War and have since organized a Jewish reparations fund.[57][58]

CARICOM Reparations Commission

Following Sir Hilary Beckles's advice, the CARICOM Reparations Commission was created in September 2013. In 2014, 15 Caribbean nations unveiled the "CARICOM Ten Point Plan for Reparatory Justice" which spelled out demands for reparations from Europe "...for the enduring suffering inflicted by the Atlantic slave trade".[59] Among these demands were formal apologies from all nations involved (as opposed to "statements of regret"), repatriation of displaced Africans to their homeland, programs to help Africans learn about and share their histories, and institutions to improve slavery descendants' literacy, physical health, and psychological health.[60] Representatives of Caribbean states have repeatedly announced their intention to bring the issue to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). However, as of 2019 no action has been taken. Moreover, from the perspective of international law, it is disputed[by whom?] whether slavery, genocide and other crimes against humanity had been outlawed at the time they were committed in the Caribbean. As international law knows the principle of intertemporal law, in principle today's prohibitions cannot be applied retroactively. Still, some lawyers[who?] have argued that exceptions to the principle of intertemporal law are applicable in cases of crimes against humanity, as European states and their representatives could not expect slavery to be legal in the future (referred to as teleological reduction of the principle).[61]

See also


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  2. ^ a b "Black Asheville Demands - Reparations Section". June 26, 2020. Retrieved July 12, 2020.
  3. ^ Kepley-Steward, Kristy; Santostasi, Stephanie (July 10, 2020). "Confederate monuments in downtown Asheville removed or covered". Retrieved July 12, 2020.
  4. ^ "Calls for reparations are growing louder. How is the US responding?". June 20, 2020. Retrieved July 20, 2020. Several states, localities and private institutions are beginning to grapple with issue, advancing legislation or convening taskforces to develop proposals for reparations.
  5. ^ Cashin, Cheryll (June 21, 2019). "Reparations for slavery aren't enough. Official racism lasted much longer".
  6. ^ Howard-Hassman, Rhoda (2004). "Reparations to Africa and the Group of Eminent Persons". Cahier d'Etudes africaines. Retrieved July 20, 2020. a" French law of 2001 that recognizes the trans-Atlantic slave trade as a crime against humanity, and the admission by the Belgians in 2002 of their role in the murder of Patrice Lumumba, first President of independent Congo"
  7. ^ a b "Blair 'sorrow' over slave trade". BBC News, 27 November 2006. Accessed 15 March 2007.
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  11. ^ 114th Congress (2016). "All Bill Information for H.R.40 – Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act". Congress.Gov.
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  13. ^ "Report of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent on its mission to the United States of America" (PDF). US Human Rights Network. August 18, 2016.
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