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"Slavery/Apologies/Reparation"

January/February 1999 issue of Poverty & Race

• Reparations are a major element of the work of South Africa’s Truth & Reconciliation Commission – “Without adequate reparation and rehabilitation measures, there can be no healing or reconciliation.... The government should thus accept responsibility for reparation.” (One of the Commission’s recommendations is for all businesses to pay a “reparations tax” of 1% of their net worth.) The Commission’s massive full report can be downloaded (but only until Jan. 29) at www.truth.org.za. Volume V, “Reparations & Rehabilitation Policy,” details the legal and moral basis for reparations, the underlying principles, the various forms it might take, who is entitled to reparations, etc. – if you are unable to download, we can mail you a copy of the 15-page Volume V with a SASE – 78¢ postage.

• Germany’s new chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, in response to various class action lawsuits, appears willing to compensate people forced into slave labor under Hitler and is bringing together representatives of major corporations (who fear bad publicity and boycotts) to develop a system for carrying this out. Volkswagen has announced it is setting up a $20 million fund for this purpose.

• Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi formally apologized to China’s President Jiang Zemin for Japan’s conduct during World War II. (However, the Chinese regard the apology, delivered orally, as inadequate and are demanding a clear-cut written apology, similar to the one Japan gave to South Korea in November.)

• We highly recommend the new 355-page book (with audiotapes), Remembering Slavery: African Americans Talk About Their Personal Experience of Slavery & Freedom, edited by Ira Berlin, Marc Favreau & Steven Miller (New Press), which draws on the remastered audio recordings of former slaves interviewed during the late 1930s and early 1940s, as well as written transcripts of interviews carried out by the New Deal’s Federal Writers Project.

• Pres. Clinton has signed into law the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Study Site Act of 1998, exhuming an 1864 attack by 700 US soldiers on a peaceful Cheyenne village, located in the territory of Colorado in which hundreds of Indians, mainly women and children, were killed. The unwarranted attack was investigated by a military commission and two Congressional committees, and although the US admitted guilt, treaty obligations between the US government and the Cheyenne & Arapaho tribes were never fulfilled. The Act requires the Natl. Park Service to submit a study to Congress and detail proposals to create a Historic Site at Sand Creek. This belated attempt at apology/restitution, coming 134 years after the event, suggests a counter-example to those who take the “it’s too late” position regarding reparations for African American slavery (Rep. John Conyers, D-MI, has a bill to study this that for many years hasn’t ever made it out of committee) and the stalled Resolution sponsored by Rep. Tony Hall (D-OH) and 15 other Members of Congress to issue a formal US Government apology for slavery.

• Marge Anderson, chief executive of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Indians in Onamia, MN, asked in an interview printed in the Dec. 1998 issue of American Indian Report, “Do you think there is any point in receiving an apology from the US government?,” replied: “I believe a formal apology would make a difference in how the public perceives us. It would be an acknowledgment that wrong was done to us, and that we have suffered because of those wrongs. Of course an apology wouldn’t solve the grave problems that American Indians face. But it would be a good start toward healing and reconciliation.

The Canadian government has taken this step. It has formally apologized to its 1.3 million indigenous people for a century and a half of misguided assistance programs and racist schools. The government has promised to establish a $245 million healing fund for thousands of Canadian Indians who were taken from their homes and sent away to these schools, and it has outlined social and economic development programs.

The American government has not taken similar steps. I hope American officials learn from the example their Canadian counterparts have set, and issue an apology to this country’s First People.”

Notes:

Periodically, we print a box like this with various items and resources touching on the issues of slavery, apologies and reparations (historically and in the present, US and internationally). Herewith the current batch. (If you’d like a set of past such boxes, send us a SASE — and, for those of you who don’t yet have a copy of PRRAC’s 1997 book Double Exposure: Poverty & Race in America, there’s a really good 10-page symposium on the reparations issue; the 258-page book is available from us for $25.45)

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