By MURPHY BROWNE (Abena Agbetu)
And if thy brother, a Hebrew man, or a Hebrew woman, be sold unto thee, and serve thee six years; then in the seventh year thou shalt let him go free from thee. And when thou sendest him out free from thee, thou shalt not let him go away empty: thou shalt furnish him liberally out of thy flock, and out of thy floor, and out of thy winepress: of that wherewith the LORD thy God hath blessed thee thou shalt give unto him. And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt, and the LORD thy God redeemed thee: therefore I command thee this thing today.
From Deuteronomy Chapter 15, verses 12 to 15.
On Thursday, April 9, 2015, the Reverend Jessie Jackson quoted the above scripture as part of his keynote speech in support of Reparations. Jackson was the keynote speaker at the recent National/International Reparations Summit in New York City.
The Institute of the Black World 21st Century (IBW), a leading research, policy and advocacy group, hosted the National/International Reparations Summit in New York City from April 9 to 12. The IBW, which has offices in New York and Baltimore, “emerged as an outgrowth of the State of the Black World Conference which attracted some 2,500 African-American scholars, activists, organizers and concerned individuals to Atlanta in 2001”.
The attendees of the Summit included the descendants of enslaved Africans from Central, North and South America, the Caribbean and Europe. According to the final press release from the IBW, the goal of the Summit was: “a clear determination to strengthen the global movement to finish the continuous, heroic struggle of Africans on the continent and people of African descent everywhere for reparations to repair the damages inflicted on our peoples by genocide and enslavement at the hands of European colonial and slave-holding nations”.
This 21st century organizing is the latest effort by the descendants of enslaved Africans to claim reparations for the hundreds of years when African labour was exploited by and enriched Europeans. Ironically, when slavery was abolished the slave holders were paid reparations for losing their property and the Africans were forced to work to ensure the White people who owned them received reparations from the British and other European governments. The British slave holders received 20 million pounds from the British treasury. Every White man and woman who had enslaved Africans and made a claim for compensation listed the African men, women and children that they “owned” and were compensated for their loss.
The listed names of those slave owners who received compensation for the loss of their property exists in archives in Britain. In the book, The Price of Emancipation: Slave-Ownership, Compensation and British Society at the End of Slavery, White British historian, Nicholas Draper, using information from the records of the “Commissioners of Slave Compensation”, has listed the names of the people who owned Africans and received compensation for losing their “slaves”.
The places where these slaveholders held Africans in slavery includes Antigua, Barbados, British Guiana, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Nevis, St. Kitts, St. Vincent and Trinidad. Although slavery in Britain was not as prolific as in the British colonies, many of the White men and women who lived in Britain were absentee plantation owners and enjoyed enormously financial benefits from the unpaid, coerced labour of enslaved Africans who toiled on plantations in the Caribbean and in Central, North and South America.
A description of the information in The Price of Emancipation states: “When colonial slavery was abolished in 1833 the British government paid £20 million to slave-owners as compensation: the enslaved received nothing. Drawing on the records of the Commissioners of Slave Compensation, which represent a complete census of slave-ownership, this book provides a comprehensive analysis of the extent and importance of absentee slave-ownership and its impact on British society. Moving away from the historiographical tradition of isolated case studies, it reveals the extent of slave-ownership among metropolitan elites, and identifies concentrations of both rentier and mercantile slave-holders, tracing their influence in local and national politics, in business and in institutions such as the Church. In analysing this permeation of British society by slave-owners and their success in securing compensation from the state, the book challenges conventional narratives of abolitionist Britain and provides a fresh perspective of British society and politics on the eve of the Victorian era.”
Much of the wealth in the British treasury was accumulated from the unpaid, coerced labour of generations of enslaved Africans. At the summit we were reminded that the four to six year “apprenticeship” that was imposed on enslaved Africans following the August 1, 1834 “emancipation” was a ruse to ensure the continued exploitation of African labour by White people. Slavery was “abolished” on August 1, 1834, with the stipulation that the Africans who were “field slaves” would continue working for a further six years without pay for their White owners and the “domestic slaves” continue for another four years under the same conditions.
Emancipated in name only on August 1, 1834, the Africans were forced to remain on the plantations where they had been enslaved and work as “apprentices” until the White plantation owners had been paid reparations with the labour of the Africans. The six year “apprenticeship” for field workers did not materialize because the Africans protested in every British colony where the “apprenticeship” system had been established and on August 1, 1838, the British were forced to end the “apprenticeship” system.
A similar situation obtained in Suriname, South America, where the Dutch ended slavery on July 1, 1863, but the Africans were forced to continue working on the plantations where they had been enslaved for a further 10 years before they were finally free to leave in 1873. White people who enslaved Africans were compensated for the loss of their property when slavery was abolished but the enslaved Africans did not receive compensation for their labour while they were enslaved or after they were “emancipated”.
The enslavement of Africans, underdevelopment of the African continent and genocide of Africans during the horrifying Maafa has not been addressed by any of the European governments and White people who continue to reap the benefits of the wealth that was accumulated during those hundreds of years.
The gathering in New York City honoured some pioneers of the Reparations movement, including African-American Congressman John Conyers Jr. who in January of 1989 introduced the bill H.R. 40, the “Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act” (http://conyers.house.gov/index.cfm/reparations). He has re-introduced HR 40 at every Congress since 1989 with no support from Republicans or his fellow Democrats. The question of Reparations for Africans in America has occupied the minds of African-Americans since the “emancipation” of enslaved Africans.
Almost a century before Conyers introduced HR 40 in Congress, an African-American woman, Callie House (1861-1928), born four years before slavery was abolished in the U.S., is credited with organizing the first Reparations movement in the U.S. in 1894, when she co-founded the National Ex-Slave Mutual Relief, Bounty, and Pension Association.
In her 2005 book, My Face is Black is True: Callie House and the Struggle for Ex-Slave Reparations, African-American history professor, Dr. Mary Frances Berry, describes House and the early Reparations movement: “An African-American laundress from Tennessee, she became the leader of a turn-of-the-twentieth-century poor people’s movement that sought pensions from the federal government as compensation for slavery. Her movement, federal officials concluded, ‘is setting the negroes wild.’ They thought that if they did not stop her, when African Americans understood that the government would never grant pensions, the nation would ‘have some very serious questions to settle in connection with the control of the race.’ Consequently, the government harassed Callie House for exercising her constitutional right to petition the government and to mobilize others in the cause. When she would not relent, calling her ‘defiant,’ the Post Office Department and the Pension Bureau redoubled their efforts to smear and confine her. Her organization was the first mass reparations movement led by African Americans.”
Similar tactics were used to destroy the “Universal Negro Improvement Association & African Communities’ League”, (UNIA-ACL) founded by Marcus Mosiah Garvey, who was also railroaded into a prison cell. The U.S. government seems to have a history of seeking and destroying any African-American who tries to lead their people to a state of self-sufficiency.
In her 2007 book Dreams of Africa in Alabama: The Slave Ship Clotilda and the Story of the Last Africans Brought to America, African-American historian, Sylviane Diouf, includes proof that African-American abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, supported the Reparations movement with this quote: “The nation as a nation has sinned against the Negro. It robbed him of the rewards of his labor during more than two hundred years, and its repentance will not be genuine and complete till, according to the measure of its ability, it shall make restitution. It can never fully atone for the wrong done to the millions who have lived and died under the galling yoke of bondage, but it can, if it will, do justice and mercy to the living.”
Most White Americans pride themselves on being devout Christians, boast of their nation’s Christian foundation yet ignore the Bible’s instruction in Deuteronomy Chapter 15, verses 13 and 14, that bonds people should be compensated when freed: “And when thou sendest him out free from thee, thou shalt not let him go away empty: thou shalt furnish him liberally out of thy flock, and out of thy floor, and out of thy winepress: of that wherewith the LORD thy God hath blessed thee thou shalt give unto him.”
The European nations that enslaved Africans also claim to be Christians, yet the Dutch behaved in a very unChristian-like manner when they committed one of the most horrific murders of African men, women and children on January 1, 1738, when the captain and crew of the Leusden, owned by the Dutch West India Company, locked 680 African men, women and children below deck and abandoned ship, leaving the Africans to drown as the ship sank during a storm off Suriname.
The Dutch outdid the barbarity of the British captain of the Zong, who on his way to Jamaica ordered 132 Africans thrown overboard to drown knowing he would not lose money since his “cargo” was insured.
Oh yes we are owed Reparations for the enslavement of our ancestors whose blood, sweat and tears enriched White people who continue to benefit from White skin privilege in every sphere.