Panelists Support Reparations for Slavery As Demand Gains Steam Nationally and In Congress

Omowale Clay
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Omowale Clay was one of the presenters at Reparations zoom webinar. Photo: Solwazi Afi Olusola, via Facebook.

A Black History Month program titled “Reparations For Slavery In The United States” took place on Thursday evening, February 18, 2021. It was held via Zoom and was sponsored by the People’s Organization For Progress (POP). 

“We held this program as part of an on-going effort to educate the public about and build support for reparations for African-Americans, and related legislation currently being discussed at the federal and state levels,” Lawrence Hamm, Chairman, People’s Organization For Progress, said. 

The panelists assembled to discuss the topic included Omowale Clay, December 12th Movement; Dr. Kelly Harris, Director, Africana Studies Program, Seton Hall University; Dr. Nichole Nelson, Policy Analyst, New Jersey Institute for Social Justice; Atalaya Armstrong, Trenton Branch NAACP; and Dr. Akil Khalfani, Director, Africana Institute, Essex County College. 

“POP demands reparations for the descendants of those who were enslaved in this country. We support the federal reparations bill H.R. 40, the call for a reparations executive order by President Biden, and state and local reparations legislation,” Hamm who moderated the program, added. 

“It is time to bring the demand for reparations into alignment with the irrefutable crimes against our people. The demand for a Presidential Executive Order for a downpayment of $50 billion reflects the urgency of now,” Omowale Clay said.

Clay also expressed support for a New York state bill A3080—A New York State Community Commission On Reparations Remedies, which is sponsored by Assemblyman Charles Barron. 

He also called for street action. “They will study us or allow us to study ourselves into perpetuity for chump change if we let them. If we want reparations we have to fight for them,” Clay said. “Where's the fight going to be? In the streets.”

Dr. Kelly Harris gave a historical perspective. “Interest in reparations has increased over the past 20 years. The H.R. 40 hearings reflect the increasing interest and the push to not only study reparations but to discuss remedies,” Dr. Harris said. 

He also reviewed the federal bill H.R. 40 - Commission To Study And Develop Reparation Proposals For African-Americans Act currently sponsored by Representative Sheila Jackson Lee. 

The bill was introduced more than 30 years ago by the late Rep. John Conyers. The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the bill a week ago. 

“Ultimately, success will result on how well we amplify the arguments for reparations and not get distracted by feeble attempts to evade the facts,” Harris said. 

Dr Nicole Nelson talked about the connection between reparations for slavery and racial inequality today. “There is a direct line from slavery in America to the cracks of structural racism in our foundation today, including in New Jersey, where we face some of the widest racial disparities in the country,” Dr. Nelson stated. 

She highlighted reparations bills currently before the New Jersey Legislature, A711 and S322 which establishes the “New Jersey Reparations Task Force,” to make reparations proposals for the harm caused by the state’s role in slavery and systemic racial discrimination. 

“Passing legislation to form a reparations task force is an overdue and necessary first step for our state to study the generations long impact of slavery in New Jersey, and to propose sweeping policy recommendations to repair the harm,” Nelson said. 

Atalaya Armstrong, who has been active on this issue, spoke to the necessity of reparations. “If we are to move forward and be the great nation that we have a desire to be, it is imperative that we right the wrongs of the past,” she stated. 

“Not only for the institution of slavery but for all the accrued disadvantages, practices, policies and procedures against African American people in the present day. Reparations is not a gift. It is debt owed. Cut the check,” Armstrong said. 

Dr. Akil Khalfani underscored the need for an international perspective on reparations. “We have to push for reparations in the strongest possible terms. However, H.R. 40 needs to be looked at in the global context,” Dr. Khalfani said. 

“There is a global call for reparations (repair) from the enslavement, torture, torment and abuse of African Americans and African people around the world,” Khalfani said. 

“To realize the demand for reparations,  the U.S. examination and implementation of it must be tied to this wider call for the healing from white supremacy, colonization and enslavement of African people on the African continent and in the diaspora,” he said. 

At the conclusion of the presentations the panelists took questions from those who were viewing and listening to the program. There were also remarks from other community leaders that were in the audience. 

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