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Boston Activists Call For Local White Churches To Pay Reparations

The reparations activists say historic white churches in Boston benefited from the institution of slavery.

Following Boston’s appointment of a reparations task force in 2023, religious leaders in the city have formed a coalition and are calling on white churches in the city to pay $15 million in reparations. 

As The Daily Beast reports, the task force updated their expectations for an action plan in March, moving the timetable from the end of 2024 to “sometime in 2025.”

Rev. John Gibbons, a white minister in the Boston community who leads a multiethnic church, Arlington Street Church, told The Daily Beast that Boston’s history of racism is only different in its form from areas of the Deep South.

“In New England, we don’t think of New England and the North as a place of slavery, and it did take a different form than it did in the South. But we’re uncovering more and more evidence of the ways in which all of the prominent families in the founding of Boston were most frequently engaged in slavery.”

Gibbons continued, “We’ve had truly segregated housing. We have virtually exclusively Black neighborhoods, virtually exclusively white neighborhoods and suburbs, and this was done deliberately through the real estate practices of blockbusting and redlining, where Black families were given loans but only if they would buy in particular neighborhoods. This has had a devastating effect. There are deep roots of racism in the North, and in Boston in particular.”

The co-director of Boston’s People’s Reparations Commission, Edward Sumpter, agrees with Gibbons’ assessment of the city and the larger implication of New England, as he told The Daily Beast: “They ought to be willing to give back to those communities that have been so hurt by the fact that for the 300 years or so in the United States, Black people really got a low stock in terms of realizing the quote-unquote ‘American Dream.’ For so many years for us, it was an American nightmare.”

Sumpter’s group and the group founded by Gibbons, the New Democracy Coalition, have been pushing for reparations in Boston and are putting the onus on the city’s white churches, which they say set the tone for the culture of Boston, which was founded on slavery. 

Gibbons told The Daily Beast, “We have demanded $15 billion, and usually we say $15 billion is not enough.” 

Gibbons continued, “We particularly are directing this demand to the financial institutions of Boston and to the white churches and, most especially, to the legacy white churches—by which, I mean the churches that were part of the founding of Boston. Really the economy, the structure, the culture of Boston was founded on the institution of slavery.”

The religious culture of New England can be traced to Jonathan Edwards Sr., a theologian and an early president of Princeton University. Edwards only served 35 days in office as Princeton’s third president. However, as the university notes, his influence on religious and intellectual thought in colonial-era America cannot be overstated, say the activists. 

This religious history underpins the appeal from Boston People’s Reparations Commission President Rev. Kevin Peterson for older white churches in Boston to support their reparations mission.

According to the Boston Globe, Peterson called for them to get involved during a press conference. “We point to them in Christian love to publicly atone for the sins of slavery and we ask them to publicly commit to a process of reparations where they will extend their great wealth—tens of millions of dollars among some of those churches—into the Black community,” he said.

Gibbons echoes Peterson and Sumpter’s calls, telling the Daily Beast that Boston’s legacy on race is too important to wait for a commission to take action. 

“We can’t get [progress] until there is some means of addressing the damage, truly genocidal damage that was caused to Black Bostonians and Black Americans,” Gibbons said. “I feel these issues are too important to be left to the Black community to be responsible for white institutions.”

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