Ask anyone you know and you’ll find most Americans don’t see the validity of the issue of reparations for Blacks and don’t connect the dots to see how the injustice of the past shapes everyday life in America. The father of America’s contemporary reparations movement was Ray Jenkins, who died in 2009.
In the 1950s, Jenkins earned the name “Reparations Ray” for speaking around Detroit about “the debt” America owed Blacks “for enslavement of their ancestors.” Jenkins found attentive audiences, but reparations never really has taken hold and has been ridiculed as loud in the ghettos as they are among Whites in suburbia.
Since “Reparations Ray” died, octogenarian Robert L. Brock, an attorney and president of the “Self Determination Committee” has become the face of the movement. A legend among reparations activists, Brock first filed a reparations class action suit in 1956. His Ashton vs. Lynn Park case went to the Supreme Court. Brock says, “The wealth of America is our legal property. But we must make our legal claims to get money.”
By 1965, Brock was demanding $500,000 for “each descendant of a slave of African ancestry.” “Claim What’s Yours!!! Find Out How to Make Your Legal Claim” was a banner headline across the pages of Black newspapers during the 1980s and 1990s. The ads were placed and paid for by Brock. Many of the ads procalimed: “Black People in United States have been wondering what they need to do to get paid for the ‘forty (40) Acres’ and ‘a mule’ they never received. Well, it is easier than you think. You must: (1) File a Claim for it (2) To do this, send your name and address, along with $50.00.”
Primarily through Black media and networks, Brock’s campaign produced more than 500,000 filed claims. His activities garnered him the ire of the government and majority media innuendos that he was advocating “tax rebates” for slave descendants. According to Brock, his procedure required slave descendants to 1) get a claim form, 2) fill it out, 3) get it notarized, 4) return it to Brock with $50 for processing and filing with the United Nations and 5) wait to hear back.
Undeterred, Brock worked with the late Johnnie L. Cochran and his reparations for slavery lawsuit against the United States as well as with Randall Robinson on his pursuit of “The Debt.” Brock says “a debt is owed Blacks for the centuries of unpaid slave labor that built America’s early economy and money from discriminatory wage and employment patterns Blacks have been subjected to since emancipation.” He chides Blacks in America for “damping down discussions about reparations during the presidency of a Black man.”
Before being confined by health problems, Brock was holding meetings across America supporting Congressman John Conyers’ H.R. 40 Bill “to form a Commission to Study Reparations for African-Americans.” For almost two decades Brock spoke at forums with Conyers endorsing the concept of a study of reparations for Blacks.
Since becoming House Judiciary Committee chair in 1989 and its ranking member since Republicans gained control of the chamber, Conyers was celebrated as he made a yearly ritual of “submitting” bill H.R. 40 in Congress. Detroit Congressman Conyers perpetrated a 25-year political charade when he asserted that he was submitting reparations legislation every year, but he “couldn’t get it out of committee.” Surprisingly, Conyers now says reparations are “too controversial to pursue at this time.”
Are all Black Americans of the same mindset as Conyers? Have conversations regarding rectifying economic injustices done to Blacks completely died? The vestiges of slavery and segregation continue for Blacks. Yet, the first Black to head the House Judiciary Committee now says reparations are “too controversial to pursue.” What’s going on when Blacks hold high positions and offices that the level of discussion about the absence of wealth, work, educational, and economic equity among them is still muted?
Brock says, “The time is ripe to move the reparations movement to the top of the American agenda.” What say you?
William Reed is head of the Business Exchange Network and available for speaking/seminar projects through the Bailey Group.org.