The History of Reparations for African Americans (2/2)


TRNN’s Eddie Conway continues his discussion with Dr. Ray Winbush about the case for reparations for the slavery in the United States.

Story Transcript

EDDIE CONWAY, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News. I’m Eddie Conway from Baltimore.

I’m here again with Dr. Ray Winbush for part two of our discussion on reparations. Dr. Winbush is the director of urban research, the Institute of Urban Research at Morgan State University.

And please join me in welcoming him.

Dr. Winbush, thanks for returning.


CONWAY: We were talking about the modern aspect of reparation and what’s been going on in the last 25 or 30 years. We looked at the history. And now I would like to see what we have been doing up until today.

WINBUSH: Today.m


WINBUSH: Well, Eddie, reparations, they’re as American as apple pie. And it’s interesting that several groups have gotten reparations. For example, Japanese Americans, during their incarceration, and rightly so, right after Pearl Harbor in the 1940s, were incarcerated, and they get reparations under that extremely radical president by the name of Ronald Reagan. Native American groups have gotten reparations in the form of gambling casinos that are tax-free, health clinics, and so forth. The only major group in this country that has not received reparations are African-Americans.

So in the past 25 years, I would say–in my book I mark it at the beginning, when James Forman, who we mentioned earlier, when he went into Riverside Church in 1969 and demanded reparations for enslavement, that kind of launched it. In the 1990s, Randall Robinson wrote a book entitled The Debt, in which he called for reparations.

And keep in mind that during this period, sisters like Queen Mother Moore had always been pressing for reparations. I would say that the Super Bowl, or at least the playoff bowl, came during the 2001 World Conference against Racism that was sponsored by the United Nations. I attended the conference in Durban, South Africa.m

CONWAY: But wait. Let me just–hold that thought for a minute, because one of the things that I need to be clear on is I think in Randall Robinson’s book The Debt, it seemed like he asked for $1 trillion.

WINBUSH: mHe did.

CONWAY: Did he? I mean, is that realistic?

WINBUSH: Let’s put it this way. You’ve got to start at a beginning point. The ICRG declaration that you can find online was a study done by African scholars in Ghana in the mid-1990s. They looked at the entire impact of enslavement on the continent. They looked at the extraction of rubber, diamonds, gold, mahogany. They looked at the kidnapping of somewhere between 50 and 75 million people out of the continent, the impact of colonialism, exploitation, and so forth. The figure they came up with was $777 trillion. There’s not that much money in the world. But you start at a point. Richard America, the economist at Georgetown, he estimated that black people are essentially responsible for about an $8-$10 trillion transfer of labor to white people. In other words, if you paid all the millions of Africans who were enslaved in this country a regular salary at their rate, it would amount to about $10 trillion of free labor that was given. So $1 trillion ain’t that much compared in the scheme of things. And Randall calls for a large sum of money. But you’ve got to begin a negotiation someplace.m

CONWAY: And one of the things that’s left out that equation is the amount of Africans that were killed to execute the slave trade itself, because people didn’t go willingly into those ships, so there was all sorts of combat that led to millions and millions of people dying before they extracted that amount of slaves.

WINBUSH: I mean, you hit the nail on the head. I mean, every time I fly across the Atlantic, I’d view it as the world’s largest graveyard, because we usually count the Middle Passage about how many people died in the Middle Passage, the two and a half journey from the West Coast of Africa, the so-called Western world. But you’ve got to count the people who were captured in villages, and they were stolen. Then you’ve got to count the people that died in the so-called barracoons or the little prisons they made on the oceanside waiting for the ships. Then you count the ships.

And then, when you get on the other side of the Atlantic, in South America, Central America, as well as in North America, you’ve got to count the first year of enslavement, because there was a huge mortality rate, because Africans in this part of the–in North America, they weren’t used to cold weather and died at an incredible rate.

Again, getting back to John Henry Clarke’s figures, he said, we must begin the count at 50 million. One of my professors in graduate school was John Oak Franklin, and he estimates it at about 60 million. So we know that a minimum of 50 million Africans were kidnapped.

And just think about all the labor, the talent, and all of this stuff that was lost as a result of this. And then we still see the impact of enslavement on the continent of Africa itself. But we also see it in how cities are built in this country, how so-called–I don’t even like to use the term ghettos, but poor black communities, unemployment, this stuff is still a legacy of enslavement. And so the World Congress against racism–.m

CONWAY: But wait. Wait. [incompr.] stop you again. I’m going to let you talk about that world conference [incompr.] But one of the things you said when you fly over the Atlantic struck a chord with me, because one of the things that I learned some years ago is that from Africa to America, there’s a highway of bones that’s 50 miles wide–

WINBUSH: At least.

CONWAY: –and 5,000 miles long. Bones. I mean, you could actually walk off of Africa, walk down under the Atlantic Ocean, and you would be on this huge highway of white bones, and they stretch from Africa to North America, and it’s calculated that there might be as many as 15 million African skeletons under that ocean.

WINBUSH: mRight.

CONWAY: And that’s mind-boggling in terms of the trail of death. They talk about the trail of tears, but the trail of death in Africa to America with us.

WINBUSH: Well, no. I mean, it’s a horrific, you know, just scenario. There’s a book out called The Slave Ship. We usually usually study the impact of slavery over in the United States, South America, and the Caribbean, or we study it on the continent. But the machine that moved Africans from the West Coast of Africa to the so-called Western World was a slave ship. And the guy that did this study in the University of Pittsburgh, he talks in-depth about how these things were machines that went across those–they were really floating prisons. And sharks followed them. Those who got only a third–I mean, a third of the people that boarded those ships–if you had 100 Africans on the ship, only about 65, roughly, made it across. The others were thrown overboard. And you had these voyages taking place over many, many–over centuries. So, like you said, there’s millions of Africans buried under those waters.

There was a science, too. And one of the reasons why I always have problems singing the song “Amazing Grace!” (how sweet the sound), was because John Newton was–and the myth is is that he kind of reformed and wrote the song. The fact is, the only reason why he quit slaving: because they wouldn’t allow him to get another ship. And it was very cost-effective. The average slave ship captain could easily make $70,000, $80,000 on one of these trips. That’s a lot of money today. But back then, you could get rich off of the slave trade. So we don’t study that enough. We hear about it, the middle passage and stuff, but that graveyard that you talk about–I literally will look down, and [incompr.] how many millions of people are under that, the bones of people who jumped overboard, were thrown overboard, and oftentimes fell overboard that were Africans.m

CONWAY: Well, one of the other factors is that after 1825, when Great Britain outlawed slavery, they were confiscating ships that were known to have slaves on it. So what they would do: the slavers would have a huge boulder on the end of the ship,–

WINBUSH: That’s right.

CONWAY: –and they would have the slaves chained to it all the way down. So they might have 600 slaves on the ship, and they were all chained to each other. And if a British man-of-war was spotted, they would push that boulder over there and let all those slaves come up out of the cargo hold and go straight down into the ocean.

WINBUSH: Absolutelym.

CONWAY: And they were killing, like, hundreds of thousands like that just to save their ship, because they didn’t want that ship to be confiscated, right?

WINBUSH: It had a certain way. And, see, that’s why some of these conservative historians–who I will leave nameless at this point–they say, well, only 7 million came over. And what they were doing–almost exactly what you said: they only counted the legal–most of the slave trade was absolutely illegal. And so that’s why when they count these slave manifests that were generated by the Lloyd’s of London, the London insurance company, they’re just counting the legal part of the slave trade. It’s probably at least four times that time. So if you take Phil Curtin’s number, you know, 10, 11 million, you’d have to multiply that by four. So you’re talking about 40 million people minimum that came across, many of whom died in ways that you just said.

CONWAY: Let’s go to Durban. Now, you’ve been, like, raring to talk about Durban. What happened in Durban?

WINBUSH: mOh my God.

CONWAY: And when?

WINBUSH: It was in late August, early September 2001, and literally something like 30,000 people gathered from all over the world to talk about the World Conference against Racism. There have been several what they call prepcons leading up to that. The African caucuses–and when I say African caucus, black folk from the Caribbean, the United States, the continent itself, and Europe united and said that the issue that we were going to press for was going to be reparations and to try to get the transatlantic slave trade declared a crime against humanity. And for ten days over there, the United States, as you know, walked out of the conference. We got it passed. And it was passed literally on September 9, 2001.

And we know, of course, what happened two days later on September 11, 2001. In fact, on the morning of 9/11, I was on Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela had been imprisoned for many years. And when we were coming back on shore, somebody yelled out to us, our guy said, Dr. Winbush, somebody attacked the United States. And then we went in and saw the pictures coming out of New York, the Pentagon. And even though we had declared this great victory–and it was a victory, an achievement–it got buried during the hysteria surrounding 9/11. But it still lived, and it still lives right now.

One article that was written about it a little over a year ago by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Paul Coates’s son, was the case for reparations. And it was the most widely read news magazine article this past year. And recently, last summer, in the summer of 2013, the Caribbean–summer of 2014, the Caribbean nations got together in their group called CARICOM, and they are presently getting ready to sue Holland or Netherlands–I should say, France, England, and eventually all of the nations, and France as well, for reparations because of enslavement. So it’s still very much alive.

CONWAY: So in the next couple of months, something’s supposed to be happening in that area here in North America. Can you share that with us? We’ve got about a minute left or so.

WINBUSH: One real quick. In early April 2001–you can go to the Institute of the Black World website–we are forming an African-American national reparations commission similar to what they’re doing in the Caribbean. I’m on the commission, as well as people like Charles Ogletree of Harvard and others, and we are going to be pressing this country for reparations. It’s a long process. But it begins in April, early April 2015, a couple of weeks. And you’re welcome to come. It’s free and open to the public too.m

CONWAY: Okay. Well, thank you for sharing with us that history and the insight. And hopefully people will be at that conference next month or a month after.

WINBUSH: I hope so too. And thanks for this opportunity to talk about it.m

CONWAY: Thanks for joining me.

And thank you for joining The Real News.


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