Posted on July 26, 2005

Cash Joins Symbolism as Penance for Slavery

Bob Kemper, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, July 26

Washington — It seemed extraordinary in June when the U.S. Senate apologized for failing to act against lynchings and then appropriated $10 million for a monument to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on the National Mall.

But the senators were actually late arrivals in a nationwide trend toward recognizing the United States’ culpability in enslaving and oppressing blacks.

Playing out over the past two months in virtually every corner of the country has been a string of unrelated decisions by business executives and state and local politicians acknowledging one of the nation’s darkest eras — and in some cases atoning with offers ranging from symbolic gestures to hard cash.

“There’s a different climate, a different environment here in Washington and all over the country,” said Rep. John Lewis, an Atlanta Democrat and 1960s civil rights leader who takes lawmakers from both parties on annual retreats to Alabama to show them important sites in the movement’s history.

“There is a new sensitivity to what happened and how it happened and that people would like to . . . get our country on the right side of history,” he said.

The recent outpouring of recognition has given new hope to activists in the African-American community who have been pushing for years to persuade the federal government to pay reparations — payment to blacks by the federal government to compensate them for the adverse affects of slavery that many say continue to reverberate today.

“Reparations are inevitable,” said Raymond Winbush, a professor at Morgan State University in Baltimore and editor of a book on reparations. “This is the beginning of it.”