Pay reparations as promised in 1867

Talk about paying reparations to the descendants of African slaves in the U.S. has heated up recently. Polls show whites strongly against reparations, blacks strongly in favor.

I have a solution which will not entirely satisfy either side, and that may be a good thing. The U.S. government must deliver on its promise of reparations made 133 years ago.

The House of Representatives March 11, 1867 passed house resolution 29. This called for enactment of a “Reparations Bill for the African Slaves in the United States.” Each liberated slave who is an adult male and each widow who is head of a family will receive 40 acres of land. Each of these homesteads receives $50 to be applied to the erection of buildings. Figured for inflation and accrued interest, how much would this $50 be worth today, possibly $5,000 or even $50,000?

These reparations never materialized. Now, many demand the government promises be honored, although others are calling for some kind of soul-searching investigation and study.

The pro-reparations people have come up with a variety of reasons why they believe reparations should be paid. They argue the slaves performed labor without pay for many years and reparations should compensate for that. The problem: on that basis, many thousands of indentured servants should also earn similar compensation.

Another argument has been that the Japanese interned in World War II were paid compensation, therefore, the Africans should get similar payment. This was a totally different situation. The Japanese were free-ranging residents of the U.S., jerked away from their U.S. homes and businesses, many losing the economic accumulations of a lifetime. The compensation was paid directly to them or their next generation descendants.

Another pro-compensation argument is that slavery created a climate of racial hate which has negatively affected all blacks down through the decades and reparations should make up for this. If that were the case, in Oregon we should be paying reparations to Jews, Chinese and Indians. All these have endured severe racial discrimination.

The Jews in Portland were refused membership in prominent clubs, especially in country clubs. They had to form Tualatin Country Club to play golf. The Chinese were subject to virulent hate and only gradually emancipated themselves out of segregated housing. The Indians were utterly despised by the Oregon settlers.

Under this rationale, the Irish should be getting reparations. The father of Grace Kelly was on fire to see his daughter become a movie star and later the wife of the ruler of Monaco. He had one motivation. He was enraged over the prejudice he and his family suffered because they were Irish.

My solution is simple in concept although complicated in execution. The government will activate the proposed reparations bill of 1867. Every male descendant and every descendant of a slave widow must receive that 40 acres of land and that $50 homestead allowance, adjusted for inflation and interest.

This will be no simple solution. Blacks who claim slave descent must be able to document that descent. A claim of a grandma, eight generations ago, will not wash. There must be lists of slave sales, plantation records, family bible entries, something on paper record.

Eligibility would not apply to all blacks. There must be millions of black people in the U.S. with no connection to slavery. Some were always free. Some in the earliest days were even slaveholders themselves, as I learned in a black studies course at Portland State.

Logically, the place to start asking for reparations would be from the African countries that sold the slaves to the Europeans. The slave trade was a highly organized and strictly regulated industry in African countries, an industry designed to enrich the African kings and their satraps.

Let us now fulfill the mandate of 1867 and distribute reparations to those entitled. There is one clause of that legislation likely to inflame the anti-reparations people. All this reparations land and money is to be provided by the former Confederate states.

This seems only fair. Oregon, among other states, never tolerated African slavery. Why should Oregon taxpayers have to shoulder any of the burdens of reparations?

I doubt if the Confederate states own enough land to sign over 40 acres to every slave descendant. The federal government may have to proffer up some U.S. owned land and the land should be of at least as high a quality as the Indians received for their reservations.