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July 12, 2005
Reparations: The New Ransom

The NAACP has decided to extort payments and concessions from companies that transacted business in support of slavery as their next project, along with lobbying cities to cease contracting with such firms until they cooperate with the group:

The NAACP will target private companies as part of its economic agenda, seeking reparations from corporations with historical ties to slavery and boycotting companies that refuse to participate in its annual business diversity report card.

"Absolutely, we will be pursuing reparations from companies that have historical ties to slavery and engaging all parties to come to the table," Dennis C. Hayes, interim president and chief executive officer of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said yesterday at the group's 96th annual convention here.

"Many of the problems we have now including poverty, disparities in health care and incarcerations can be directly tied to slavery."

Since slavery ended 140 years ago, that last statement simply cannot be true. The NAACP can't tie anyone's experience directly to slavery. Perhaps indirect ties can be made, but since all people who lived during the time of slavery have died, and most (if not all) of the succeeding generation has passed away as well, direct impact from slavery has long since died with them. Even the direct impact of Jim Crow has thankfully begun to fade. With the Civil Rights era's victories in the 1950s and 1960s in wiping segregation from the legal codes across the nation, two generations of African-Americans have grown up without its direct impact.

That won't stop the NAACP from attempting to guilt and shame owners and stockholders into coughing up money for the organization. They have succeeded with JP Morgan Chase, which in its antebellum incarnation had nothing to do with slavery. The company recently acquired two small Southern banks that did, unbeknownst to them, and wound up paying $5 million for a scholarship fund for Louisiana children to get the NAACP off its back.

Moreover, the NAACP itself acknowledges that the entire effort of tying a company to slavery isn't an exact science. Using records only answers part of the question, an expert in this suddenly necessary field of research explains:

James Lide, director of the international division at History Associates Inc., a Rockville firm that researches old records, said determining how many U.S. businesses are linked to slavery depends upon definition.

Almost every business has at least an indirect link to slavery, he said. For example, some railroad and Southern utility companies can trace their roots to businesses that used slave labor. Textile companies, for example, use cotton that was grown on Southern plantations.

"There's never going to be a solid number because the idea of how you connect a company to slavery is more a political one than a historical one," Mr. Lide said.

In other words, the NAACP has an almost unlimited number of targets.

The problem with reparations for slavery is that it taxes those who had nothing to do with perpetuating the system and gives the money to those who never suffered under it. Reparations for victims of the Japanese internment camps, in comparison, went to those who specifically lost their homes and businesses and suffered under the mandatory relocation orders of the government. In the case of JP Morgan Chase, stockholders -- people like you and me who might have shares in our retirement accounts -- have money taken from us even though we had nothing to do with slavery. My ancestors came from Ireland, Italy, and eastern Europe, mostly after the Civil War, and those who came before lived in New York, an abolitionist state.

In fact, the two cities where the NAACP was successful in passing their contracting restrictions, Philadelphia and Chicago, never allowed slavery at all. What sense does that make?

Still, the NAACP's effort has provided a couple moments of irony. One of the government programs that has been specifically designed to correct the indirect effects of slavery and Jim Crow was affirmative action. This program has recently come under attack as anachronistic, patronizing, and unfair. Democrats have defended its use. So guess which political party has to defend itself against reparations lawsuits?

The Rev. Wayne Perryman of Mount Calvary Christian Center Church of God in Christ agreed that pursuing the federal government is not a fruitful option. The Seattle minister has filed two reparations lawsuits against the Democratic Party, saying its role in defending slavery and opposing civil rights bills during the Jim Crow era deserves an apology.

"One of the problems in courts is that ... you have to show ... the government official who participated in it," Mr. Perryman said. "With the federal government the real problem is that it has never had a totally pro-slavery position, the Democrats did and supported it, while the abolitionists and Republicans did not."

Perhaps they can call Senator Robert Byrd to explain the Democratic positions on race, including his filibuster against the Civil Rights Act in 1964 that ultimately failed, thanks to Republicans and Democrats like Hubert Humphrey. That might make the lawsuits at least entertaining enough to tolerate.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at July 12, 2005 5:20 AM

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