Joan Aragone, InsideBayArea.com (Oakland), Jan. 29, 2007
If you, like many Americans, think that the study of history is irrelevant, you may be surprised at what you’ll learn at the Menlo Park Library on Saturday.
That’s the day Marie Davis, 77, longtime Foster City resident, former president of the San Mateo branch of the NAACP and civil rights activist since the 1960s, will present the case for reparations for African Americans, the subject of a bill currently before the U.S. House of Representatives.
First introduced by U.S. Sen. John Conyers, D-Mich., in 1989 and re-introduced at every succeeding congressional session since, the bill addresses the need for compensation or reparations for the descendants of the African slaves who from 1619 (the founding of the American colonies) to 1865 (the end of the U.S. Civil War) contributed labor (and more) to the economic strength of the American colonies and the United States—yet whose contributions were never paid for nor acknowledged.
But H.R. 40, contrary to what some critics have charged, is not focused on money.
“It calls for legislation that would acknowledge the fundamental injustice of slavery, establish a commission to study slavery and the impact of discrimination on the freed slaves, apologize to Africans and their descendants in the U.S.A., establish a museum and ask Congress to establish a commission to study reparations to
The thrust is apology for the facts of history.
“Blacks have never been apologized to for 246 years of officially approved slavery,” Davis said in a phone interview. “I say in my presentation: ‘No apology plus no reparations means no respect. Apology plus reparations equals respect plus healing.’”
“What’s not much known is that after emancipation, many freed slaves were let go without money or a place to go. Many died on the streets,” Davis said. “President Abraham Lincoln had set up a reparations committee, and Congress had voted to give freed slaves some land. Some applied and got the land. But after Lincoln’s death, Congress rescinded the legislation. Some freed slaves were chased off lands they had received. Others were beaten and hanged.”
The facts of the post-Civil War era and how they affect the U.S. today are lost in superficial high school and college history courses—and a general American disinterest in the past.
But for Davis, history impacts the present. “If this apology happens, the killing will stop among young black people who are killing each other. It will be healing to the nation.”
“Once they hear what it’s about, it will open up their minds,” she said.
“Black people gave their lives to make this country, and nobody has ever said they are sorry for what has been done,” she said.