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The South Was Right

Reparations for Descendants of Slaves

By Michael Saul / The Dallas Morning News

The Dallas City Council is to consider a resolution Wednesday supporting federal legislation that could provide reparations for descendants of slaves.

The legislation would create a commission to examine slavery and recommend ways to remedy its lingering effects. One possible remedy is monetary compensation to descendants.

"We need to look at reparations in terms of setting the record slooking up 'www.sweetliberty.org'...

The council's Municipal and Minority Affairs Committee endorsed the resolution earlier this year. Committee chairman Al Lipscomb, the resolution's sponsor, said Monday that he hoped the full council would follow suit.

Several council members have expressed strong opposition. Donna Blumer said the resolution would foster racial division, not harmony.

"It's not good for the country. It's not good for racial healing. It does not contribute to equality," she said. "It just dredges up the past and creates greater division.

"Slavery was abolished over 100 years ago. . . . We need to get on with our lives."

Council member Alan Walne said a commission would be a waste of time and money. The federal legislation calls for $8 million to fund the commission.

"Slavery was bad. Slavery was horrible. Slavery was wrong," he said. "I don't think a study is necessary to tell us that. We know that."

The council has six black members, two Hispanic members and seven white members.

John Loza, one of the Hispanic members, said he will support the resolution.

"Have we, as a nation, had a real dialogue on slavery and what the effects of that are? I don't think we have," he said. "It is something that is worthy of discussion for purposes of racial harmony and healing."

Mr. Loza said it's premature to say whether reparations are appropriate. That, he said, would be for the commission to determine.

The idea of reparations for victims of slavery dates to Reconstruction, when freed blacks were led to believe they would receive land and farm equipment. One proposal specified payment of 40 acres and a mule. That bill was vetoed by President Andrew Johnson.

The notion of reparations surfaced again during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. It gained attention in the 1980s, when the government paid millions to Indian tribes who had lost land and to Japanese-Americans who were interred during World War II.

The latest House bill calling for a commission to study the issue was introduced by U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich. The bill, referred to the House Judiciary Committee, is believed to have little hope of passing.

The proposed Dallas resolution specifies that no financial obligation would fall to the city.

In October, Africans and African Americans for Enslavement Reparations, a Dallas-based organization, drew about 50 people to The Black Academy of Arts and Letters Inc. in downtown Dallas for a conference on reparations.

"We want our money!" said Irungu Bakari, his voice rising. "Can we talk about getting our money?"

Dallas Justice of the Peace Thomas G. Jones, who moderated the October conference, said Monday that he strongly supports the resolution.

"I believe in reparations because what we are really saying is that is a way to address a wrong," he said. "Somehow, the descendants of slavery should be compensated."

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