Slavery Reparations

Today, there are increasing numbers of black professionals and scholars advocating reparations for slavery. Tamar Lewin, staff writer says in her article "Calls for Slavery Reparations Getting Louder" New York Times (6/3/01) that a team of black lawyers have announced that they plan to sue the federal government and companies that have profited from slavery.

Slavery was an abomination. There's no argument, based on morality, that can justify slavery and its attendant evils. Indeed, were it possible, slave traders and slave owners should be forced to make reparations to those whom they enslaved. A similar case cannot be made for reparation payments to slave descendants.

Adjoa Aiyetoro, a legal consultant to the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America, says, "We're not raising claims that you should pay us because you did something to us 150 years ago. We are saying that we are injured today by the vestiges of slavery, which took away income and property that was rightfully ours." This vestige-of-slavery argument, as an explanation for the pathology seen in some black neighborhoods, is simply nonsense when you think about it.

Illegitimacy among blacks today is 70 percent. Only 41 percent of black males 15 years and older are married and only 36 percent of black children live in two-parent families. These and other indicators of family instability and its accompanying socioeconomic factors such as high crime, welfare dependency and poor educational achievement is claimed to be the legacy and vestiges of slavery for which black Americans are due reparations. Let's look at it.

In 1940, illegitimacy among blacks was 19 percent. From 1890 to 1940 blacks had a marriage rate slightly higher than whites. As of 1950, 64 percent black males 15 years and older were married compared to today's 41 percent. In Philadelphia, in 1880, two-parent family structure was: black (75.2%), Irish (82.2%), German (84.5%) and native white Americans (73.1%). In other large cities such as Detroit, New York and Cleveland, we find roughly the same numbers. According to one study of black families, (Herbert G. Gutman, The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom, 1750-1925), "Five out of six children under the age of six lived with both parents." That study also found that in Harlem between 1905 and 1925, that only 3 percent of all families were headed by a woman under thirty and 85 percent of black children lived in two-parent families.

The question raised by these historical facts is: if what we see today in many black neighborhoods, as claimed by reparation advocates, are the vestiges and legacies of slavery, how come that social pathology wasn't much worse when blacks were just two or three generations out of slavery? Might it be that slavery's legacy and vestiges have a way, like diabetes, of skipping generations? In other words, for example, that devastating 70 percent rate of black illegitimacy simply skipped six generations; it's a delayed effect of slavery.

I doubt whether the reparations gang could develop a coherent theory of generation skipping effects of slavery. Vestiges and legacy of slavery arguments are simply covers for another hustle similar to the $6 trillion dollar War on Poverty hustle. Interestingly enough, reparations advocates are not demanding that white people be taxed in order to send checks out to individual black people. What they're demanding is for money to be put into a reparations fund from which they decide who receives how much for what purpose. For me that has just as much appeal as Reverend Leroy's call for people to send their money to him and he'll send it to God.

Walter E. Williams
June 11, 2001
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