U.S. says ‘sorry for slavery’; a rare Obama misstep
On Tuesday, July 29, 2008, the United States House of Representatives passed an official resolution apologizing to African Americans for the “fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality and inhumanity of slavery and Jim Crow” segregation. The apology comes almost a century and a half after the abolition of slavery. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Steve Cohn who, says the Washington Post, is “a White Jew who represents a majority-Black district in Memphis.” Effectively making himself Cohn’s counterpart, Democratic Senator Tom Harkin is poised to introduce a senatorial version of Cohn’s measure. But if it includes reparations for the descendants of African slaves—something absent from Cohn’s bill—the Senate’s only Black member, a certain Barack Obama, will not support it. Some see this as a major Obama misstep at a time when his light could shine even brighter. More on Obama in a moment.
With the timing of today’s Democratic primary (August 7), some suspect Cohn’s motives since Nikki Tinker, a Black airline attorney, has prove to be a formidable contender for his seat. In another move made earlier this year that raised suspicion, Cohn was unsuccessful in his gutsy attempt to join the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). While co-sponsoring Cohn’s resolution, powerful Caucus leaders like James E. Clyburn, John Conyers, Jr., and Charles B. Rangel have not endorsed his reelection bid. Back in 2005, before the days of Barack Obama, the 100-member Senate apologized for its inaction when Blacks were being lynched throughout the 20th century. It’s still happening symbolically and figuratively now as is illustrated by these three cold, sobering facts from the end of the past century; only the tip of the statistical iceberg.
(1) “Blacks and whites in the USA are the victims of murder in almost equal numbers, yet 82 percent of prisoners executed since 1977 were convicted of the murder of a white person...Blacks make up just 12 percent of the country’s population, but 42 per cent of the nation’s condemned prisoners. In early 1988, of the 26 people under federal sentence of death (military and civilian), only five prisoners were white.” (Amnesty International, Oct 1998); (2) “African Americans constitute 12% of the U.S. population, 13% of the drug using population, but an astonishing 74% of the people in prison for drug possession.” (National Criminal Justice Commission, Feb 1996); (3) “Looking at the makeup of Kentucky’s death row in 1996 revealed that 100% of the inmates were there for murdering a white victim, and none were there for the murdering a black victim, despite the fact that there have been over 1,000 African Americans murdered in Kentucky since the death penalty was reinstated.” (Death Penalty Infor-mation Center, June 1978)
Virginia, North Carolina, Florida and Alabama have already issued apologies. The South notoriously enacted a racist, discriminatory “grandfather clause” defined in Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary as “a provision in several Southern state constitutions designed to enfranchise poor whites and disfranchise Negroes by waiving high voting requirements for descendants of men voting before 1867.” The Concise Columbia Encyclopedia says that “since African Americans had not yet been enfranchised on [January 1, 1867], the provision effectively barred them from the polls while granting voting rights to poor and illiterate whites.” Naturally, for the “fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality and inhumanity of slavery and Jim Crow” and the post-slavery “grandfather clause,” reparations are in order. It’s Biblical justice. Disappointingly for some, the freshman Senator from Illinois doesn’t see it that way. In this, Barack has blundered, though it still isn’t seen as an unforgivable sin. In the simplest of terms, the Bible, the very book that Christian Obama believes in, says that “the workman is worthy of his wages.” (1 Tim. 5:18; Lev. 19:13; Rom. 4:4) Though the slaves were ‘workmen,’ they NEVER got their wages. They’re owed back pay. Since they’re not here to receive it, we, as their descendants, are entitled to it. It’s a very basic, fundamental, ubiquitous concept.
Biblical justice also pronounces guilt upon both the slave trader and buyer at 1 Tim. 1:10 where it identifies “slave traders,” “slave-dealers,” “man-traffickers,” “men-stealers,” or those “who traffic in the bodies of others” as gross sinners. Noted Bible commentator Albert Barnes specifically describes the horrible deeds of those “who sell slaves.” He writes: “The word here used—andrapodistes—occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. It properly means one who steals another for the purpose of making him a slave—a kidnapper. This is the common way in which men are made slaves. Some, indeed, are taken in war and sold as slaves, but the mass of those who have been reduced to servitude have become slaves by being kidnapped. Children are stolen from their parents, or wives from their husbands, or husbands from their wives, or parents from their children, or whole families are stolen together.
“None become slaves voluntarily, and consequently the whole process of making slaves partakes of the nature of theft of the worst kind....The guilt of manstealing is incurred essentially by those who purchase those who are thus stolen—as the purchaser of a stolen horse, knowing it to be so, participates in the crime. A measure of that criminality also adheres to all who own slaves, and who thus maintain the system—for it is a system known to have been originated by theft. This crime was expressly forbidden by the law of God, and was made punishable with death.”
It is for these reasons I argued in favor of reparations before a special panel which included then California Insurance Commissioner Harry W. Low on Tuesday, March 13, 2001, when I attended a public meeting at the Ronald Reagan state building in downtown. The Commissioner hardily agreed with the points made in my presentation and commended my highly, as did the public event coordinator Connie Brown. She wrote me this brief note that same day: “Thank you so much for your testimony at today’s Slave Policy Insurance Hearing. Your thoughts were well received and presented a perspective that was not represented by others who spoke.” A later Los Angeles Times article entitled “Black Reparations Idea Builds at UCLA Meeting” (May 12, 2001) described Connie Brown as “a political consultant and activist” who said that the idea of reparations has “got the attention of the middle class.”
The few accolades I received for my stance in favor of reparations should be feathers in the rapidly growing plume of accolades in the cap that is Obama’s. It would behoove the Senator to readdress his position on the matter. Meanwhile, we and all the people of the countries Obama recently visited, and other world citizens, should be encouraged by the words of Isaiah when he prophesied that people of all colors, races, nationalities, tribes, and ethnic groups will someday be one happy, united family.
“In the last days,” he wrote, “many nations will come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord...Then God will teach us his ways, and we will obey his teachings’...He will settle arguments among the nations. Nations will no longer fight other nations, nor will they train for war anymore.” (Isa. 2:2-4; New Century Version) Let the congregation say, “Amen.”
Word for the Week (or is it “Weak”?): comeuppance: pay back; deserved punishment; one’s just deserts.
Dr. Firpo Carr n can be reached at 800.501.2713 or