Sins of the Past

Activists seek reparations from U.S. government and corporations with ties to slavery

100 years ago. I’m one of them.”

Furthermore, granting blacks reparations would open the door for hordes of other groups that have suffered injustices in America to seek claims, says Williams. “Reparations is harmful, degrading, and a passive form of enslavement,” he said. “The bottom line is if it literally paid to be a victim, countless groups would rush forward. The country couldn’t afford it. We’d be bankrupt.”

Cochran likened the litigation to an ongoing war rather than a battle. “We thought this was an idea whose time has come,” Cochran said. “But it’s going to be so hard. I think it’s going to take the next five or 10 years. There’ll be some settlements [and] some victories along the way, but this will be a long battle.”

If, and when, that war is won, one big question will remain: What to do with any settlement dollars? Walters, Cochran, and Taifa all dismissed the notion of cutting checks to millions of African Americans. Walters suggested any settlement dollars be put into a fund that could, in turn, finance economic development and education projects. “What was taken away [during slavery] was the capacity to do institutions building. It’s really in that area that most of us believe we should work,” he said.

Cochran admitted that the committee had not formulated a plan on how to use any cash settlements. “We have not, quite frankly, worked that out yet,” he said.

Whether Cochran and company fight this war in the courtrooms, Congress, or the court of public opinion, it’s
possible that these suits could represent the final chance to prompt corporations into acknowledging and accepting penance for their sins of the past.

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