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A CASE FOR REPARATIONS By Mumia Abu-Jamal

by Mumia Abu-Jamal Saturday, Aug. 11, 2001 at 8:20 PM

"They got mad at us because we was free and they let us go without a crumb of anything and without a penny and nothing but what we had on our backs .... We had a hard time then and I've been having a hard time ever since." -- Frank Fikes, ex-slave [Genovese, E.D., Roll, Jordan, Roll (1974), p. 99]

A CASE FOR REPARATIONS

By Mumia Abu-Jamal

Column Written 8/5/01

All Rights Reserved

"They got mad at us because we was free

and they let us go without a crumb of anything

and without a penny and nothing but what we

had on our backs .... We had a hard time then

and I've been having a hard time ever since."

-- Frank Fikes, ex-slave

[Genovese, E.D., Roll, Jordan, Roll (1974), p. 99]

The plaintive voice of Frank Fikes could've

been echoed millions of times in the brutal aftermath

of the U.S. Civil War, and would last (with the brief,

fleeting exception of the Reconstruction period) for

over a century longer.

What a cruel "freedom" awaited those four

millions who witnessed the victory of the Union over

the Confederacy. On January 16, 1865, two years

after black troops restored Union hopes, Union General

William Tecumsah Sherman would issue Special

Field Order No. 15, which set aside the Sea Islands

and the low country rice coastlands south of

Charleston, for some 30 miles inland, for the

exclusive settlement of blacks. Each family would

receive forty acres of fertile land, and the Union

army would loan several mules.

In March, 1865, Congress would pass a

law allowing "every male citizen, refugee or freedman,"

[...] "not more than forty acres of land."



By the end of the year, with the War won,

another General, Oliver Otis Howard, would tell

some 40,000 Blacks that they could not keep

the lands allotted to them by Sherman. With

President Abraham Lincoln dead by April, 1865,

the next President, Andrew Johnson, would veto

the "forty acre" law passed by Congress, and the

road to betrayal was chosen. Johnson would

order the return of plantations to the former

owners of slaves and lands, if they pledged

loyalty.

Decades later, after over half a century

had passed, a former slave, Sally Dixon, would

remember, "We was told when we got freed

we was going to get forty acres of land and a

mule. 'Stead of that, we didn't get nothing."

[Kelley, R.D.G. & E. Lewis, eds., To Make

Our World Anew: A History of African

Americans (Oxford Univ. Press, 2000),

p.240]

Today, over a century and a half

after the issuance of Special Field Order

No. 15, the words "forty acres and a mule"

evokes bitterness in Black hearts, for it

signals the loathsome betrayal of the Union

Army and the U.S. government of a people

held over 244 years in bondage. Here is the

long-buried roots of the reparations

movement, a movement bequeathed by

ancient ancestors, who were denied justice.

Needless to say, the notion of

reparations is a controversial one in a

society as Negrophobic as the United States.

Some, notably a well-known Jewish

conservative, have damned the notion of

reparations, claiming to base his objections

on, a.) The difficulty of identifying

descendants; b.) The passage of time;

c.) The relative well-being of U.S. Blacks,

and d.) The bad-feeling such an action would

evoke in whites who see this as "divisive."

He also questions who should be asked to

pay. The essential point he advances is

that the past is past.

What's wrong with such an argument?

To say a thing is difficult is not an

argument for it not to be done. It's a rather

lame excuse.

To argue that too much time has

passed is to damn those who did not do the

right thing at the right time; not an argument

against doing it now. Union General Sherman

and a Radical Republican Congress did the

right thing; General cum Freedman's Bureau

Commissioner Howard and President

Johnson didn't.



How can any self-respecting Jew

argue 'the past is past?'

If the biblical texts are any measure of

the Jewish past, how did they interact with

the nation that held them in bondage? The

book of Exodus 12:33-37 (KJV) gives us an

interesting insight:

33 And the Egyptians were urgent

upon the [Jewish] people, that they

might send them out of the land in

haste; for they said, We Be all

dead men.

34 And the people took their dough

before it was leavened, their

kneading-troughs being bound up

in their clothes upon their shoulders.

35 And the children of Israel did

according to the word of Moses;

and they borrowed of the Egyptians

jewels of silver, and jewels of gold,

and raiment:

36 And the Lord gave the people

favour in the sight of the Egyptians,

so that they lent unto them such

things as they required. And they

spoiled the Egyptians.

37 And the children of Israel journeyed

from Rameses to Succoth, about six

hundred thousand on foot that were

men, beside children. [The Bible]

Now, one question: Do you really believe the

Egyptians "lent" the Jews gold, silver, and

"such things as they required"? (If so, is there

any biblical record of the children of Israel

returning to Egypt to return what was "lent"?)

Is there any serious question that this was a

biblical warrant for reparations, of such a cost that

it "spoiled the Egyptians?" (Does anyone think this

was "divisive"?).

Did the Egyptians carry the Israelites from

their homes, beat them, torture them, deculturate

them, humiliate them and forbid them from learning

the ways, the names, the faiths of their fathers? Did

they shackle them and carry them across the burning

sands, splitting families and tribes, so that they

would slave for their Egyptian captors?

The Bible reports that the Jews entered

Egypt because Israel was facing famine (Gen. 42).

The Israelites sold their own brother into slavery,

but the Pharoah granted him rank, and privilege.

After the death of their father, Jacob, 70 relatives

entered Egypt, and lived splendidly there. Again,

Exodus:

1:7 And the children of Israel were

fruitful, and increased abundantly,

and multiplied, and waxed

exceedingly mighty; and the land

was filled with them.

And, as for the past, if it's not so important,

why then do Jews celebrate Passover, based on their

liberation story, some 5,000 years later - annually?

For some, the past is never past.

Years ago, a young Huey P. Newton and

Bobby Seale got together to write the 10 Point Program

of the Black Panther Party. The October 1966 B.P.P.

Platform and Program was broken down into two

parts: What We Want, and What We Believe. This

is one of them:

3. We want an end to the robbery by

the white man of our Black Community.

We believe that this racist government

has robbed us and now we are demanding the

overdue debt of forty acres and two mules.

Forty acres and two mules was promised 100

years ago as restitution for slave labor and mass

murder of black people. We will accept the

payment in currency which will be distributed

to our many communities. The Germans are

now aiding the Jews in Israel for the genocide

of the Jewish people. The Germans murdered

six million Jews. The American racist has

taken part in the slaughter of over fifty million

black people; therefore, we feel that this is a

modest demand that we make.

As ever, Huey P. Newton was ahead of his time.

This may be an idea that is now right on time.

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