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Rush, others urge slavery reparations

By Rick Hepp
April 26, 2000

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"The future of race relations will be determined by reparations for slavery," U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) told a joint hearing of the Chicago City Council Finance and Human Relations committees today.

Rush was among the first to testify at City Hall on whether descendants of African-American slaves deserve compensation from the U.S. government.

"The concept of reparations is simple," he said. "Reparations are payable when a crime against humanity has been committed by one people against another. Certainly, we can all agree that 400 years of slavery constitutes a crime against humanity.

"The United States may choose to put its blinders on when it comes to reparations for African-Americans. But the horrendous nature of American slavery is well documented."

Ignoring it, he said, would be "as ineffective as covering an open wound with a Band-Aid."

Rush said he was "uncertain on the amount" of any reparations.

Claud Anderson, author of "Black Labor White Wealth; The Search for Power and Economic Justice," told the committee that reparations are needed because affirmative action isn't working for African-Americans.

Anderson, who said he wrote the first affirmative action plan in 1970, argued that black people are worse off now than immediately following the Civil War.

"(Affirmative action) does nothing for black people and helps others coming into this country to piggyback on you," Anderson said.

Ald. Billy Ocasio (26th), chairman of the Human Relations Committee, declined to respond to Anderson's statements directly, but did say, "Whenever you talk about somebody's culture that's when it starts to get passionate. We've had a lively hearing."

Referring to the promise following the Civil War that former slaves would receive 40 acres and a mule, Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) found room for a joke at the end of her comments.

"I want 40 acres and a Lexus," she said.

In his testimony, the executive editor of Ebony magazine called for an apology as well as a schedule of payments to compensate those harmed by slavery.

"Almost everybody profited in it," said the editor, Lerone Bennett. "And they are still profiting from it. We're not talking about welfare. We're talking about back pay."

The hearings were convened under a resolution sponsored by Ald. Dorothy Tillman (3rd), an outspoken member of the council's black caucus, who crossed racial and ethnic lines to gather signatures of more than 20 colleagues who support hearings on the matter.

Tillman compared the bid for reparations to the United States granting money to Japanese-Americans who were interned during World War II.

Under a 1988 Federal Restitution Law, about 80,000 survivors of the 120,000 Japanese-Americans sent to internment camps received roughly $20,000 apiece.

"I think it's time for black folks to receive reparations, too." Tillman said.

Asked how it would be possible to determine which blacks would be eligible for reparations, Tillman said: "When I look at blacks they are all direct descendants of slaves."

Tillman said that a cash settlement "might be impossible." But reparations advocates nationally are discussing such options as low-interest loans "to help rebuild the black community," special health initiatives targeted at African-Americans, and educational help, including scholarships, for black youngsters, she said.

Tillman acknowledged that state and federal governments ultimately will be the primary venues for deciding the reparations issue, but "the city can do some things" as well. She declined to elaborate.

U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) told the committee that many problems facing the African-American community -- poor health care, high unemployment and a disproportionate number of blacks in prison -- stem from the continuing effects of slavery.

After testifying, Davis said that by approving reparations Chicago would have an "opportunity to move head and shoulders above the rest of the country.",2669,ART-44501,FF.html

Tribune staff writer Gary Washburn contributed to this report.

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