Skip to comments.Rep. Keith Ellison: ‘We Were Held In Slavery Longer Than We’ve Been Free’
Posted on 06/16/2012 11:54:59 PM PDT by 2ndDivisionVet
REPARATIONS PART II
From the day he was sworn into office in 2006 with his hand placed on the Quran, Representative Keith Ellison (pictured left) (D-MN), the first Muslim American elected to the U.S. Congress, has exemplified political bravery.
As previously reported by NewsOne, before entering into public service, he was an attorney with the law firm of Lindquist & Vennum, specializing in civil rights, employment, and criminal defense law. He was then appointed executive director of the Legal Rights Center in Minneapolis, a non-profit organization that specialized in representing clients living in poverty.
Rep. Ellison is also a passionate supporter of H.R. 40, the proposal to establish a Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for the African-Americans Act, authored by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) In a pivotal moment in U.S. history, Congress officially studied the institution of slavery, its lingering ramifications, consequences, and viable methods that the United States should address during hearings by the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. Conyers had introduced the legislation for almost two decades, and 2007, was the first year that an official hearing took place.
For over 19 years, I have introduced H.R. 40 not to spark controversy or promote division but to direct attention to a historical wrong that warrants substantial consideration, Rep. Conyers said when he gaveled the Oversight Hearing on the Legacy of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. With an H.R. 40 commission, this nation could come closer to racial equality and understanding. Slavery is a blemish on this nations history, and until it is addressed, our countrys story will remain marked.
When we asked Rep. Ellison why he joined forces with Conyers on such a politically risky legislation, he answered simply, It was the right thing to do.
In an exclusive interview, NewsOne spoke with the fiery politician from Minnesota about the violent history of slavery; other dehumanizing eras in African-American history; reparations; and how, when, and to whom redress could logically be dispersed.
NewsOne: Do you agree that reparations should be awarded to the African-American community for the economic and psychological impact of slavery, Reconstruction, Jim and Jane Crow, the Civil Rights Era, and the Reagan Era when drugs flooded our communities?
Rep. Ellison: I think the conversation is generally too simplistic. Yes, I think we need to study reparations. When theres injury there should be redress, right? Its a basic concept of justice, but some people automatically leap to the conclusion that the only legitimate form of redress is direct cash payments, and that might not necessarily be the case. Im not saying that, that isnt the right way, but it needs to be studied.
Lets figure out what companies benefited from slavery the shipping companies, the underwriting companies, the insurance companies. Who built the equipment? How international was it? One thing that needs to be comprehensively studied is what financial benefit the African-American community has meant for America. People need to recognize that. I think one of the reasons that we have these pervasive unkind stereotypes is many of us dont recognize and many others wont acknowledge the value we brought to this country.
When we were brought here in 1619, until, I think, after 1865, because the legal slave trade did not end with the American Civil War, we didnt even have control over our own intellectual property. Our intellectual property was legally the property of our owners. Ive always found it fascinating: I was born in 1963; my father was born in 1928; his father was born in 1896; and his father, Crawford Ellison, was born into slavery in 1861, in Burke County, Georgia. What does that mean?
That this is a very recent phenomenon.
I went to law school and practiced law for many years and we took courses in property, but we never had one single case on the property of all of these slaves. Take for instance, if you beat someones slave and they die. Whats due? Whats void? What should the family have received? They had rules against excessive force against animals, but not against slaves.
There is just an entire range of questions that need to be answered. And for America to look squarely into the eyes of her past, it would be a good thing to do.
NewsOne: So if you dont necessarily believe that direct cash payments are the way to go, then what?
Rep. Ellison: Well, even that needs to be studied, because is that the best way? Is that the best way for redress to occur? We are talking about a multi-generational injury. The people who were in slavery are now all dead, so we want to compensate them for slavery, [but] we cant, because theyre all gone. Now, there could be some sort of survivor benefit, but how could that be distributed?
Perhaps you have an ancestor who migrated from Africa and didnt go through the American slave experience. Maybe one of your parents is White and the other is Black. Maybe youre only 1/8 Black. At some point, people who say that we have to get reparations and we have to get money, I just think that is simplistic and its 100 times more complex that that. So we need to really plumb the depths of it. What about the African Americans who owned slaves? Do they pay? How do we differentiate between the ones who legitimately owned slaves from the those who were freed and had to buy their childrens freedom or their wives freedom? Theyre on the books as slaves.
What about the Native-Americans, the Cherokee? Do we demand reparations from the Tribal governments? I mean, this thing is complicated and the worse thing we can do is take a complicated subject and try to simplify it because we do injustice one way or another. Rhode Island was implicated in ship building during the slave trade, New York is guilty of underwriting capital used in the slave trade, and as a country, we tend to always focus on the South.
To study this thing in depth not only rights an egregious wrong, but tells us more about ourselves as Americans.
Then what about the international scope England, the Caribbean, South America. Who would be responsible to pay? Would [it be] the Ashanti Empire, who aided and abetted the slave trade? Or would we just focus on the American government?
It might be entertaining barber shop conversation, but its 10 times deeper than that.
NewsOne: When you look at the governments integral role in the perpetuation of slavery, how governments in Germany paid reparations to the Jewish community, how the United States is even paying some form of reparations to Native Americans. Why do you think there hasnt been more of an active push to rectify the financial and psychological subjugation of African Americans in this country?
(VIDEO AT LINK)
Rep. Ellison: Well, let me tell you, in terms of active push, there aint never been reparations for anyone, for anything, unless the plaintiff made a demand. No one who inflicts injury on anyone else, they dont volunteer reparations. If African Americans want to have a more in-depth exploration into what weve contributed to America, then we have to be the ones who make that call.
A lot of people think, Oh, I voted for that guy, hes supposed to come in here and fix my life up. Well, democracy doesnt work like that. You vote for people, then you have to stay engaged in the process, tell them what you want, what you expect. You have to organize, just like everyone else does. Thats how politics works, always has.
NewsOne: From your point of view, how can we address the stigma attached to the mere mention of reparations, often times from within our own communities?
Rep. Ellison: Well, you have to take into consideration that African Americans were just as complex, complicated, conflicted, intelligent, inventive, and creative as we are now. We walk around today and its almost impossible to imagine Black people being owned by anyone else but four generations ago we were. Even the slaves who were freed sometimes walked around like slaves without masters.
Think about that.
Even when we werent owned by one person, there was still the chains of you cant live here, you cant work here, you cant pursue that profession, you cant educate your kids here. It was a horrible existence in many ways.
NewsOne: When you look at the South, specifically, and how the ramifications of slavery stand out in vivid detail obesity, sub-par education, some towns where you can still find separate Black and White proms in many ways its still a very dont-cross-over-the-railroad-tracks existence. There are some people who honestly cannot believe that some places in the Deep South are still that way. You can feel slavery as with the neo-confederatism of the antebellum home tours and restaurants shaped like Mammy. Shouldnt there be some kind of economic push, possibly in the form of financial reparations, just to begin restructuring the hub of where the degradation began?
Rep. Ellison: You know, the neo-confederacy, where they want to remember the South in a fond way, flying the rebel flag everywhere; these people took up arms against the United States and thats called being a traitor.
Thats called being a traitor.
Jefferson Davis [President of the Confederate States of America] was a traitor. These people were traitors against the United States and the fact that they could ever hold any honor, anywhere is an outrage. What did they fight for? Did they fight for a noble cause? No, they fought to keep other human beings in bondage. They are totally disreputable, contemptible, and hold no value in the United States of America.
Still again, for there to be any kind of active push toward reparations for slavery, African Americans are going to have to organize and demand it.
NewsOne: Malcolm X said in By Any Means Necessary:
If you are the son of a man who had a wealthy estate and you inherit your fathers estate, you have to pay off the debts that your father incurred before he died. The only reason that the present generation of White Americans are in a position of economic strength is because their fathers worked our fathers for over 400 years with no pay . We were sold from plantation to plantation like you sell a horse, or a cow, or a chicken, or a bushel of wheat . All that money is what gives the present generation of American Whites the ability to walk around the earth with their chest out like they have some kind of economic ingenuity. Your father isnt here to pay. My father isnt here to collect. But Im here to collect and youre here to pay.
According to Harpers magazine (November, 2000), the United States stole an estimated $100 trillion dollars for 222,505,049 hours of forced labor between 1619 and 1865 with a compounded interest of 6 percent.
Do you agree with Malcolms statement? That aside from the morality of reparations, the United States is legally liable to repay at least that sum to the African-American community?
Rep. Ellison: I respect Malcolm, but there are some things we dont agree on. For instance, he said, By any means necessary, I say, By any moral means necessary. Theres a huge difference. So can you legally [shift] liability to the state for injuries committed against your ancestors four generations ago? There could possibly be some legal theories that support that. I dont know them as I sit here.
Thats why I say we need to study this stuff, so we can dig into it and learn more about it. I mean, if four generations ago, your great-great-great grandmother was in an accident, through no fault of her own, that she didnt get compensated for, can you sue for that today? The law would say no because theres a statute of limitations on it. But if someone killed your loved one, can you sue for that? Well, yes, you possibly could, because the statute of limitation on that is quite a bit longer if there is one.
But before people start screaming for money, saying, Oh, look at what you did, we need to understand slavery more. They sold slaves on the [National] Mall. Presidents and leaders were afraid that when foreign dignitaries visited, they would see that and be embarrassed. Theres documented evidence of that fact that I just stated.
I believe the collective White society is ashamed of it, and by the way, the collective Black society is ashamed of it because they dont want to face the fact that we were that degraded.
No one wants to stare this thing in the face. From a White standpoint, its look, that happened a long time ago, lets move on. From an African-American standpoint, its it happened a long time ago and it still affects me today, but I dont want to be reminded of the pain.
NewsOne: African Americans are tired of being cast into the role of victim.
Rep. Ellison: Exactly. Its disempowering to be the victim. People want to be in the role of victor. And it may help to realize that we were not the only ones disempowered. For instance, could poor southern Whites have been paid more if not for slavery? They probably could have. The only reason they accepted such low wages was because they were in direct competition with slave labor.
Does the White working class have a claim for reparations? I dont know. But people want to make it simple, and its not simple. We know that its a mistake to make a simple issue complicated. It can be an even bigger mistake to make a complicated issue simple.
Ill give you an example. If someone says, What are my taxes, whats my refund? And the government says, Oh, I dont know. Well just give you something; well give you what we got. Well, wait a minute, what about deductions, what about dependents? Its an intricate, detailed process. Theres this deep injury associated with slavery that none of us have really looked at in-depth, and it would be a disservice to do otherwise.
NewsOne: As a liberal Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives, how do you answer the criticism (and address the misconception) that public welfare programs enable rather than cripple African Americans? Is there a way to restructure the system so that it is clear that welfare is not a handout, but a necessity in a nation with an inbred, imbalanced sense of economic equality?
Rep. Ellison: This is an interesting issue, and my answer would be no. And heres why: America caring for our poor and unfortunate is something that should be done without any regard to historical injury. We should do it because its the right thing to do. We shouldnt allow our senior citizens to eat dog food or have to pick between a meal and medicine. We should make sure that every child has a decent meal in the morning before they go to a decent school. We should make sure that we dont have homeless people living under bridges. And that should be done without any regard to historical injury.
Even if there was never any historic injury, it shouldnt be that only wealthy White males get government contracts to build highways. We should be striving for diversity for its own sake.
In my view, reparations has everything to do with slavery and African Americans being denied their God-given right to own themselves.
If there was an African slave who ran away, he would have been found guilty of theft theft of himself. They said we had no more legal rights than a chicken or a cow, and yet, if a chicken were to peck its master, the master would say, Oh, thats just a chicken, chickens peck sometimes. But if a slave were to strike his or her master, they would be held morally culpable.
They didnt have any laws saying that chickens couldnt read and write, but they had laws saying that Black people couldnt read and write.
This was a system of oppression. Its important to know what slavery means in our lives not just historically, but how it affects us as Americans today. Its important, a basic matter of arithmetic. We were a legal slave-owning society from 1619 to 1865.
We were held in slavery longer than weve been free: There are whole generations who lived their whole lives, had kids and died. Those kids lived their whole lives in slavery, had kids and died. Their kids lived their whole lives in slavery and died again. In slavery. There have only been about four generations after slavery.
And we have to look at White society as well, how this institution of oppression made good, decent human beings that God created into cruel despots. It supported patriarchy and sexism. It created this myth around White womanhood. These people became cruel and mean in order to preserve this institution.
Everyone was affected.
We have to go through the work to figure out what reparations is, thats what Im arguing for. I think it would be an important journey for our nation. Bottom line: Were all Americans today, but you cant heal a dirty wound, you have to clean it out first.
Rep Ellison provided powerful, comprehensive insight into the complexity of reparations, and there are still many questions that can be asked: Can the U.S. government, even though they recently unsigned the Rome Statute that governs the International Criminal Court, be charged with crimes against humanity for the atrocities of slavery, Reconstruction, Jim/Jane Crow, and the Civil Rights and Reagan Eras?
Recently, a U.S. judge ruled that Iran and Syria owed one family $323 million for the death of their son in Israel by a suicide bomber, citing terrorism.
Should/can this decision set the precedent for domestic terrorism as well and could it be argued that slavery and the aforementioned deadly eras were time periods where domestic terrorism reigned specifically against African Americans?
If reparations are owed to the descendants of slaves so be it. Let’s establish a figure to be paid, say, 100 trillion dollars. Now let’s make sure all descendants get a fair share. Since it is prudent to allow for any exigency, let us safely assume there will be another 100 trillion generations of descendants. Therefore let’s split one dollar among each generation of descendants.
To me, Reparations means to return to the status before the wrong.
So...give them tickets back to Africa. Send them back to “Mother Africa”. Give them 10 grand on the understanding they can never return to the USA.
See how long they last when they find out they cant buy 1000 dollar sneakers and the punishment for stealing is losing a hand. And let them try to blare rap music with car radios in Liberia.
Writing for the Chattanooga Free Press, Walter Williams, an economics professor at George Mason University, agrees with the foreign correspondent, now based in Jakarta. “Assuming I would have been born anyway,” Williams wrote, “my wealth and my liberties . . . are greater as a result of being born in the United States than they would be in any country in Africa. In other words, while slavery was a brutal institution, I can be thankful for its results.”
And how many bails of cotton has he picked?
To any black....Get your a** going. Actually FINISH school, stop doing drugs, passing on aids, making babies but not "fathering", living off "the system"....etc etc...
What a shame that cotton grows in North America at all.
Reparations were paid in full years ago.
Trillions of dollars in welfare, section 8 vouchers, EBT cards,set asides, affirmative action, padding the government workforce, racist gerrymandered Congressional districts, etc, etc,
An Affirmative action industry where blacks are paid 6 figure salaries to confront imaginary discrimination. For example with budgets cuts for engineering and other practical college disciplines widespread the California Affirmative Action Industry is expanding:
The University of California at San Diego, for example, is creating a new full-time vice chancellor for equity, diversity, and inclusion. This position would augment UC San Diegos already massive diversity apparatus, which includes the Chancellors Diversity Office, the associate vice chancellor for faculty equity, the assistant vice chancellor for diversity, the faculty equity advisors, the graduate diversity coordinators, the staff diversity liaison, the undergraduate student diversity liaison, the graduate student diversity liaison, the chief diversity officer, the director of development for diversity initiatives, the Office of Academic Diversity and Equal Opportunity,
Not to mention the racial lawsuit industry which last week awarded a black victim of racial slurs in the work place 25 MILLION DOLLARS for his suffering.
Poor Keith has never caught a break.
Why take my money because someone else is too lazy to take care of themselves. I am not a racist like Jackson or Sharpton.
Never owned a slave, and don’t know if any of my ancestors did either.
“Reparations were paid in full years ago.”
Yep. The placation motivation of the welfare system.
I’m old enough to remember a time when you could go to a nice restaurant, and see no black people. This is certainly not true today. What’s more, we see blacks and whites dining together. We see black males and white females together. Lately, we’ve begun to see black females and white males together. Blacks are successfully penetrating the upper income strata.
It’s interesting to me how even the criminal element has integrated, as we see when mug shots show up in our local paper.
Heck, family reunions are no longer mono-toned.
Ellison and others with a stake in maintaining the blacks-as-victims-of-whites meme are stating things as they wish they were, not as they are.
Oh, and we have a black President.
‘__________for muslim conquest.’
My thoughts also, after 9-11.
Somewhere during GWBush’s years, I thought this country would never see/better not see, a muslim president.
I would have that thought every now and then over the years.
That it would be crazy if a muslim even tried to run - - -
It is too incredible that we have the closest thing to one now - since BHO is a Christian, and all - - -
9-11 - what has it wrought?
Actually, it brought into the open what has been going on under the radar - - -
On 9-12 the spotlight flushed out the roaches.
In view of the billions and billions of dollars that these programs have cost those of us who’ve never owned slaves, who’ve never supported slavery, whose ancestors were never even here when slavery was in effect, perhaps it’s time to stop these programs immediately and demand the refund that is overdue.
If Ellison wants reparations for black people...
I routinely see people who are capable of working living in 900 dollar a month HUD apartments, who allow their shiftless baby daddies to shack up in these TAXPAYER paid for apartments that anyone would be proud to have, and we still have disabled vets trying to get housing?
It is so upside down.
“No one who inflicts injury on anyone else, they dont volunteer reparations.”
Can he seriously argue that point from a legal standpoint?
Can a person wait until the one who inflicted the injury is dead and then sue their relatives successfully?
With all his meandering on who should get...what they should get...how much they should get...from whom and in what form, it looks like the muslim wants to keep this thing going so he can get a piece of the race-pimp pie.
Minnesota has a very pronounced socialist mindset (think Madison, WI but with even worse weather). Michelle Bachmann is an aberration in Minnesota.
Didn’t realize Rep. Ellison had been a slave.
When, where, and who liberated him?
If these shakedowners got reparations every 10 years, they would still be back for more. That is who they are. That is what they do.
If Ellison were really concerned, he would be concerned about the ‘current’ slave trade in various Middle Eastern and African nations. Some of which is black on black; some of which is Muslem on non-Muslum.
“...a non-profit organization that specialized in representing clients living in poverty”
Many thousands, of all races and heritages, have managed to find a their way out of poverty. How did they do that? Work, determination, education, perseverance, effort ...
Executive Order, don't ya know.