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America must fulfill its promise of 40 acres, civil rights historians say

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The federal government has an obligation to conduct a vast reparations initiative to “restore the promise of forty acres” to African Americans in the United States, according to expert civil rights historians at a Thursday event

Duke public policy professor William A. Darity Jr. and Carolina Circuit Writer founder A. Kirsten Mullen, authors of “From Here to Equality: Reparations For Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century,” said that they believe reparations must come in the form of $8,500 payments — a figure derived from the difference between the mean incomes of Caucasian and African American households — to each Black-identifying descendant of a slave.

“Reparations are a program of acknowledgment, redress and closure for a grievous injustice,” Mullen said.

The program would cost about $10 trillion, according to Darity and Mullen. They said that only the federal government has the capacity to pay for the program.

“It’s essential that those kinds of payments be made, because what we’re really after is establishing the full conditions for participatory citizenship on the part of Black Americans in the United States,” Darity said. “And that requires a material foundation as well as a political one, and reparations would provide that material foundation that’s required for full citizenship.”

Darity and Mullen also pointed to reparational precedents which support their case. Germany made direct payments to all Holocaust survivors, and the U.S. made similar reparations in 1988 to every Japanese American forced into internment camps during World War II.

The experts identified three phases of atrocities committed by the U.S. against African Americans: slavery; segregation and mass murder by white supremacists; and post-Civil Rights legislation discrimination. This legislation discrimination includes “mass incarceration; police executions of blacks; discrimination in labor, housing, and credit,” according to Darity. 

Reflecting on this history, Darity and Mullen said it creates a cumulative wealth impact.

“Most significant from our standpoint, the economic indicator is the cumulative consequence of white supremacy, the enormous racial wealth gap in the United States,” Darity said. 

Mullen added that she is supportive of non-reparation reforms directed at increasing African American wealth, including increased educational and vocational affirmative actions. However, she said direct payments are uniquely important: “Bring us true reparations.”

When addressing whether or not only financially challenged descendants of slaves should receive reparations, Mullen answered: “It’s not a poverty program. This is about a debt that is owed by the U.S. government that is 156 years overdue and should be paid.”

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Jed Ngalande ‘23 is a Staff Writer for Vol. 259 Academic News.