Posted on August 19, 2004

Reversal of Attitude: Alan Keyes on Reparations

Christine Phillip,, Aug. 18

Alan Keyes, the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate who once referred to reparations as “an insult to our slave ancestors,” is now calling for a plan that would exempt the descendants of slaves from income taxes for at least a generation.

Tax exemption would give Blacks “a competitive edge in the labor market,” because they would be cheaper to hire than federal tax-paying employee” and allow Blacks to be compensated “for all those years when your labor was being exploited,” said Keyes, who is challenging Illinois state Sen. Barack Obama for the U.S. Senate seat.

Keyes’ different turn

The ancestors of slaves would be precluded from paying federal taxes for a generation or two. The exemption would apply only to federal taxes, as opposed to state taxes, since slavery “was an egregious failure on the part of the federal establishment,” Keyes said. There would be no exemption from Social Security taxes, however.

But Keyes’ recent pronouncements are puzzling some observers, who remember his expressed disdain for reparations not that long ago.

In 2002, for example, as a commentator for the MSNBC program “Making Sense,” Keyes lambasted former D.C. Delegate Walter Fauntroy for suggesting that the descendants of enslaved Africans should be compensated for centuries of forced, free labor.

“The issue of slavery was very prominent in the minds of the young men who went into the cannon’s mouth during the Civil War,” Keyes railed. “[A] lot of folks went consciously, believing that God called them to give their lives to repair the moral wrong of slavery. Something money could not do. So, they gave their blood.”

“Now, it seems to me that by the very comparison you’re suggesting, almost I feel an insult to our slave ancestors. You want to tell me that what they suffered can actually be repaired with money? You’re going to do the same thing those slaveholders did, put a money price on something that can’t possibly be quantified in that way.”

Conservative critic David Horowitz, also a guest on the show, praised Keyes’ insight.

Keyes: “Frivolous suits”

“Well, Alan, you put it very eloquently, yourself. This is a shakedown operation; the United States government liberated the slaves…,” Horowitz said. “The United States inherited from Britain a slave system, and within 80 years ended slavery at the cost of the equivalent of 5 million lives. We have dealt with slavery in this country — another thing, Black Americans are the richest and freest and most privileged Blacks on the face of the Earth.

“The United States is a country that Americans should be proud of for ending slavery. And this whole, you know — you started with the suits against companies, completely frivolous suits. The companies that exist today have nothing to do with the companies of 150 years ago.”

Reparations advocate Charles Ogletree, a law professor at Harvard University, applauded Keyes’ recent conversion.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” said Ogletree, whose views on affirmative action, as well as on reparations, have conflicted with those of Keyes in the past. “It captures the sentiments of many who are for reparations. It’s not nearly as comprehensive to address the magnitude of the matter, but it is consistent with issues in finding real solutions.”

Keyes is facing a tough battle to unseat the popular, charismatic state senator from Illinois. Obama, grabbed virtually every major headline and lead TV story after delivering a rousing speech at the Democratic Convention last month. Keyes, an African American from Maryland who admittedly knows little about the issues affecting residents of Illinois, was drafted by the Republican Party to run against Obama. But Keyes is no novice to national politics: He ran two unsuccessful bids for the U.S. Senate, and he sought the Republican nomination for the White House in 2000.