It’s hard to put a price on the suffering of enslaved African Americans.
But it's easy to quantify the economic value that white-owned enterprises extracted from slaves.
Juneteenth 2019, 400 years after the first Africans were sold into slavery in the New World, Congress held its first-ever hearing on reparations for slavery.
That was a year ago. It’s time to act.
TAKE ACTION: Tell Congress to pass the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act (H.R. 40).
What dollar amount can be attached to the pain of a woman whose baby is born a slave, ripped away from her and sold into a life of dehumanization, torture and rape?
There’s no amount of money that can compensate for terror and loss like that.
Yet, the thing about buying and selling human beings is that a market value gets attached to their lives—and that makes it easy to put a value on the wealth extracted from the bodies of African Americans, starting with their own children, the 3.5 million babies born into slavery.
On average, enslaved women gave birth to between nine and 10 children. Just 388,000 people kidnapped and trafficked from Africa bore the 4-million person labor force that was enslaved at the time of the Emancipation Proclamation.
This enslaved workforce was valued at $3.5 billion, making these human beings the largest single financial asset in the entire U.S. economy, worth more than all manufacturing and railroads combined—and that’s in 1860 dollars.
Couldn’t we, at the very least, restore to American Descendents of Slavery the cash value of their grandparents’ enslaved bodies?
That’s just one of the questions that should be addressed by a federal commission to study and develop reparations proposals.
Another is where did that money go?
During slavery, forced labor built the wealth of the nation, created capitalism as we know it and secured the fortunes of New York Life, AIG, Aetna, JP Morgan, Citibank, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Brooks Brothers and Domino's Sugar.
Since slavery officially ended, wealth and land have continued to be transfered from blacks to whites.
In 1865, after President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, the 400,000 acres of land awarded to former slaves was returned to the Confederate plantation owners who had waged war on their own country.
Since 1920, through terrorism, lynch mobs, state violence, trickery and fraud, 98 percent of Black farmers have been dispossessed of their land.
The number of Black farmers has shrunk from 949,889 at its peak in 1920, to 45,508 today.
Of the country’s 3.4 million total farmers, only 1.3 percent are Black, they own a mere 0.52 percent of America’s farmland and they make less than $40,000 annually.
By comparison, 95 percent of U.S. farmers are white and make over $190,000.
The theft of African Americans’ land has provided economic opportunity for companies including the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association, Hancock Agricultural Investment Group, and Farmland Partners.
As Leah Penniman writes in her book, “Farming While Black”:
“There is a reason why the typical white household has 16 times the wealth of a black household: 80 percent of wealth is inherited, often traceable back to slavery times.”
It’s time to restore justice to our food and farming system. The place to start is by passing the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act (H.R. 40).