PAYING FOR THE PAST SETTLING THE NATION’S DEBT TO AFRICAN AMERICANS

Friday, May 24, 2019
Backstory Radio

Reparations for African-Americans has been a hot topic on the presidential campaign trail, with Democratic candidates including Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren coming out in favor of compensation for unpaid African-American labor.

But the debate around reparations is nothing new. In fact, it goes back centuries.

On this episode, Nathan, Ed and Brian explore the complicated – and often contentious – history of reparations, from the first mass reparations movement led by Callie House, an ex-slave, to a unique moment when African-Americans in Florida received compensation for the destruction of their community.

SEGMENTS

JUSTICE FOR THE GU272

In 1838, Georgetown University sold 272 enslaved people to pay off the school’s debts. Now, more than 175 years later, students are seeking justice for the slaves’ descendants. In April, students passed a referendum that would require each undergraduate student pay $27.20 per semester to a fund that will benefit the descendants of the GU272, as the original enslaved people have become known. Ed talks with Georgetown student organizer Mélisande Short-Colomb about the school’s role in reparations.

CALLIE HOUSE & THE MOVEMENT FOR MASS REPARATIONS

Callie House is one of the most important – if little known – people in the history of reparations. Born a slave in 1861, she helped launch the first mass reparations movement led by African-Americans. But by the 1910s, her successes drew ire from federal officials, who accused her of committing fraud. Mary Frances Berry tells Nathan about Callie House and what her movement can teach us today. 

Music:

Afterglow by Podington Bear

RECOGNIZING THE ROSEWOOD MASSACRE

The town of Rosewood was situated on the gulf coast of Florida, about 50 miles southwest of Gainesville. It was an African-American community with all the trappings of a typical Southern town. But in 1923, Rosewood was destroyed by racial violence. Lizzie Jenkins, a Rosewood descendant, walks us through the harrowing story that was passed down in her family. And Nathan talks with Stephen Hanlon, the lawyer who represented the Rosewood survivors in 1994, about how Florida became one of the first states to pass a reparations bill.

Music:

Repose by Podington Bear

Flitter Key Backwards Beat by Podington Bear

WHAT ‘40 ACRES AND A MULE’ MEANS TODAY

Before the end of the Civil War, Gen. William Sherman issued an order commonly known as “40 acres and a mule” that promised ex-slave families 40 acres of tillable land on the southeastern coast. However, after many families had settled on the land, the policy was reversed and the area was reinstated to white farmers and former slave owners. William Darity says this reversal had huge implications for African-Americans ability to accrue wealth, and catalyzed a staggering racial wealth gap. Brian talks with Darity about how “40 acres and a mule” shaped a racial wealth gap that affects millions of Americans today, and how Democratic presidential candidates should approach reparations policies.

Listen to the podcast or read the transcription here