Black Woman Won Largest Reparations Award At Time From U.S. Courts In 1878

Black Woman Won Largest Reparations Award At Time From U.S. Courts In 1878

In 1878, an all-white jury awarded Henrietta Wood $2,500, which would be more than $75,000 today, in reparations.

In 1878, Henrietta Wood, a formerly “illegally” enslaved Black woman, was awarded $2,500 in reparations by an all-white jury — the most significant sum of its kind that a U.S. court had granted.

Wood initially sought $20,000 for being kidnapped and illegally enslaved in an 1870 lawsuit, Business Insider reported. But was awarded a smaller amount. While it may not seem like a lot, the $2,500 total would equate to more than $75,000 today, the outlet noted.

Wood used her settlement to move with her son, aiding his education. The outlet noted that he became one of the first Black law graduates from what is now Northwestern University’s School of Law.

Born into slavery between 1818 and 1820 in Kentucky, Wood was sold multiple times before finally gaining freedom in 1848 from her owner’s wife, Jane Cirode, who wanted to avoid debt collectors. According to Business Insider, the wife of William Cirode — a French immigrant who had abandoned his family due to legal reasons — had rented Wood out as a domestic servant.

Wood was illegally recaptured just five years later by a deputy sheriff in Kentucky named Zebulon Ward, whom Cirode’s daughter and son-in-law hired. Following the Civil War, Wood sued Ward for damages and won the most significant reparations case the U.S. courts had awarded.

The battle Wood began sadly continues with reparations still being denied to most African Americans. Now, more than a century later, federal reparations remain a question despite unprecedented Congressional apologies for slavery. In 2008-2009. Rep. Steve Cohen wrote in a resolution that the nation must seek “reconciliation, justice, and harmony.”

While state efforts have emerged, national progress stalls. Rep. Cori Bush said in May 2023: “Black people … cannot wait any longer for our government to … address the harm it has caused,” Business Insider reported.