Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney
4th U.S. Congressional District of GEORGIA
August 11, 2001
From the inception of our nation in 1776 to 1868 a thriving slave trade flourished between the United States and various African nations. An estimated 30-60 million African men, women, and children were forcibly taken from their African homelands and brought here to the United States and enslaved. These people and their families were never compensated by the US government for damages and human suffering which was caused by this crime against humanity. That is why I am issuing a call for the issue of reparations to be studied seriously in this country. I also believe that the United States should issue an official apology for its participation in the world slave trade of the 18th and 19th centuries.
The issue of reparations for blacks has long been avoided in this country although there are countless reasons that validate the need. US jurisprudence and history have honored the tradition of paying victims for damages and suffering. US history is replete with instances of US support for the payment of reparations to individuals and communities that have been wronged by the US government. The United States government has even apologized at least once for mistreating some of its citizens of color.
The only thing unusual about a discussion of reparations or payment of damages in the American context is the outcry against reparations or damages being paid to black people.
The very outcry itself, given US history, is a sad indicator of how far away this country really is from the One America that we all want to see and live in.
The treatment of blacks in this country has historically been deplorable and while steps have been made to better the racial climate, nothing has been done to compensate those who have been wronged in the process. Bush does not want to talk about reparations because he opposes paying compensation to black Americans for slavery.
That is what Ari Fleischer his spokesman, had the nerve to categorically state at a White House briefing. I hope that is a mischaracterization of President Bush's attitude, especially given the facts surrounding the November 2000 elections.
Fortunately, the facts of the long, sorry story of the mistreatment of African Americans doesn't depend on the supposed opinions of President Bush,
Sadly, however, even the Emancipation Proclamation failed to end the story.
The end of the Civil War merely ushered in yet another chapter in the long book on black marginalization in the US that is still being written today.
The ignoble 1857 Dred Scott decision saw the United States Supreme Court rule that no black man could be regarded as an equal and therefore had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.
Not even The Fourteenth Amendment, which was the constitutional rejoinder to the Dred Scott decision, could effectively protect Black women and men from the deep-seated racism which produced Jim Crow and the end of the Reconstruction Era. The Supreme Court nailed apartheid into the fabric of America with its 1892 Plessy versus Ferguson decision which legally enshrined "separate but equal" as US custom and law. Segregation would remain the law of the land until its demise three-quarters of a century later.
Plessy versus Ferguson ushered in "Jim Crow" laws and marked the end of the post-Civil War Reconstruction Era. Blacks were now legally barred from access to employment and public places such as restaurants, hotels, and other facilities.
By the early 20th Century, every Southern state had passed laws that created two separate societies; one black, the other white. Blacks and whites could not ride together in the same railroad cars, sit in the same waiting rooms, use the same washrooms, or drink from the same water fountains. Blacks were denied access to parks, beaches, and picnic areas; they were barred from many hospitals.
What had been maintained by custom in the rural south had become sanctioned by the United States Supreme Court as the law of the land. These laws were not overturned until the 1954 Brown versus Board of Education Supreme Court decision and the subsequent passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
The millions of blacks who lived and worked in America's completely segregated society, suffered a century of terror and lynchings at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan and the general public and the complete failure of the state to protect them.
Human Rights Watch recently issued a report stating that the US should pay reparations not only for slavery, but for segregation, too. No mention is made in the Human Rights Report of the one hundred years of lynchings to which Black people in America were subjected.
Four little girls bombed to their deaths in 1962 are only just now beginning to have justice served; however their parents, relatives, and an entire grieving community received nothing in compensation for their suffering.
A recent and commendable Wall Street Journal article reported that in the early 20th century, tens of thousands of convicts, most of whom were black men, were snared in a largely forgotten justice system rooted in racism and nurtured by economic expedience. Alabama was perhaps the worst offender, but certainly was not the only one. Until nearly 1930, Alabama was providing convicts to businesses hungry for hands to work in farm fields, lumber camps, railroad construction gangs and, especially in later years, mines. For state and local officials, the incentive was money and for many years, convict leasing was one of Alabama's largest sources of funding.
Nearly two decades after slavery was abolished in America, men were dying as slaves in a prison work scheme that benefited southern states and businesses.
Alabama's forced labor system generated nearly $17 million for the state government alone, or between $225 million and $285 million in today's dollars.
Of course, this does not include the profits accruing to the many southern companies that benefited from this mostly-black slave labor.
Unfortunately slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and prison slave labor were not enough for the purveyors of state-sanctioned racial discrimination of the American sort. The Federal Government of the United States used all its available resources to thwart the call of African Americans for the US to respect their basic human rights. Thus, the COINTELPRO program was born. COINTELPRO was the FBI's secret program to undermine the struggle for freedom from racism and discrimination that was led by African American, and later Native American, Latino, and progressive white organizations.
Though the name stands for "Counterintelligence Program," the targets were not enemy spies.
In an infamous FBI memo, the stated purpose of COINTELPRO was to "expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize the activities of black nationalist " organizations as well as "their leadership, spokesmen, membership, and supporters."
The FBI took the law into its own hands and secretly used fraud, force, harassment, intimidation, psychological-warfare, other forms of deception, and even murder, to sabotage constitutionally protected political activity.
This reign of terror left countless black, white, Native American, and Latino victims behind bars who were convicted of bogus crimes and to this day are serving exceptionally long sentences that arose from their politically motivated actions. Many of these men and women who have committed their lives to movements that sought justice in an era marked by war, racial violence, and political assassinations, are aging behind prison walls, serving longer sentences than they would have in any other industrialized nation.
Additionally, there have been many victims of COINTELPRO. Our country's democracy is the biggest victim. That our laws could be subverted by a small group of people in high office is a clear danger to all of us. However, that it was done specifically to this country's people of color to deny them and the United States the benefit of the authentic leadership of true representatives of America's communities, especially America's black community, deprives us all of talents that are even now desperately needed but wasted in graveyards, prisons, or in fractured individuals, families and communities. This illegal US government activity affected more than the individuals involved, but also their families and our entire community.
Today the vestiges of racial discrimination, which began during the days of black race hatred and slavery, are still visible.
Black women and men are haunted by the reality that "Driving While Black" in many states makes you a prime target for police harassment. In the state of New Jersey, at least eight of every ten automobile searches carried out by state troopers on the New Jersey Turnpike over most of the last decade were conducted on vehicles driven by blacks and Hispanics. 80% of the stops, yet only 30% of the population. This is racial profiling at its worst. But New Jersey is not the only Driving While Black culprit.
The Justice Department admits that blacks are more likely than whites to be pulled over by police, imprisoned, and put to death. And, though blacks and whites have about the same rate of drug use, blacks are more likely to be arrested than whites and are more likely to receive longer prison sentences than whites.
Twenty-six black men were executed last year, some probably innocent; 2001 was begun by executing a retarded black woman.
Government studies on health disparities confirm that blacks are less likely to receive surgery, transplants, and prescription drugs than whites.
Physicians are less likely to prescribe appropriate treatment for blacks than for whites and black scientists, physicians, and institutions are shut out of the funding stream to prevent this. As a result, Black American males and females experience shorter life expectancy rates than do their white counterparts. A black baby boy born in Harlem today has less chance of reaching age 65 than a baby born in Bangladesh.
In the US education system, 40% of all public schools are racially exclusive, meaning that fewer than 10% of their students are children of color while 40% of public schools in large cities are "intensely segregated," meaning that more then 90% of the students are children of color.
1998 statistics reveal that 26% of Blacks and 25% of Latinos live below the poverty level while only ten percent of whites live below the poverty level.
The entire world watched the debacle of the Year 2000 Presidential election in which countless black women and men were denied their constitutional right to vote, suffering the same disfranchisement that their grandmothers and grandfathers struggled to overcome half a century earlier. So bad was the spectacle that autocrats and dictators offered election monitors to the United States. Even former President Jimmy Carter, noted for his election monitoring around the world, stated that the US system was so bad that the US wouldn't even qualify for Carter Center monitors. Sadly, 2007 marks the expiration of important sections of the Voting Rights Act.
It is evident that the United States has not adequately addressed its problem of race. Additionally, it has failed to even account for all its transgressions against its black citizens. Passing laws has not been enough to stem the tide of the deep-seated racism rooted in the fabric of America. Even then, each time laws have been passed erosion of enforcement and the laws themselves has been a consistent problem.
The Reconstruction Era, after the United States Civil War, was as short-lived as was the Second Reconstruction which was inaugurated after the Brown versus Board of Education decision. However, the 1978 Bakke Supreme Court decision began the erosion of the real efforts to integrate the American mainstream.
Shaw versus Reno and Johnson versus Miller are important voting Rights Act Supreme Court decisions which end the expansion of protections for blacks and other people of color for the right to representation. The expiration of critical sections of the Voting Rights Act could very well usher in a return of state-sanctioned black disfranchisement on a scale worse than what was discovered in the 2000 November Presidential election.
As you can see, the US is far from having adequately addressed its race problem. In addition, I believe the United States is in long-standing violation of international treaties that it has signed and ratified.
Participation in the World Conference Against Racism is but one step needed to reverse the deep-seated appalling conditions and present-day treatment for people of color in this country. The United States could and should also apologize for its participation in the slave trade and the long history of racism against black people that that participation fostered and supported.