150 Years Later, Slavery Reparations Are on the Agenda Again


For a brief and all-too-rare moment in American politics, the case for slavery reparations took center stage Tuesday night during the first of the two Democratic presidential debates in Detroit.

First, there was Beto O’Rourke, declaring his support for Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee’s legislation—HR 40, originally developed by former Rep. John Conyers—to launch a commission to study reparations. “The legacy of slavery and segregation and Jim Crow and suppression is alive and well in every aspect of the economy and in the country,” O’Rourke said. And then came Marianne Williamson, arguing that the $200 billion to $500 billion she’s proposed for reparations was not “financial assistance” but rather a “payment for a debt that is owed.” 

The idea of reparations was on the national agenda in a way it has not been since Reconstruction, according to William Darity, Jr., a scholar on reparations. Williamson may have spoken the words that put it there, but her answer on Tuesday was built on the work of several generations of Black grassroots activists, not to mention the efforts of policy wonks like Darity.

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Mother Jones