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Long Overdue

The Politics of Racial Reparations

Charles Henry

Publication Year: 2007

Ever since the unfulfilled promise of “forty acres and a mule,” America has consistently failed to confront the issue of racial injustice. Exploring why America has failed to compensate Black Americans for the wrongs of slavery, Long Overdue provides a history of the racial reparations movement and shows why it is an idea whose time has come.

Martin Luther King, Jr., remarked in his “I Have a Dream” speech that America has given Black citizens a "bad check" marked “insufficient funds.” Yet apart from a few Black nationalists, the call for reparations has been peripheral to Black policy demands. Charles P. Henry examines Americans’unwillingness to confront this economic injustice, and crafts a skillful moral, political, economic, and historical argument for African American reparations, focusing on successful political cases.

In the wake of recent successes in South Africa and New Zealand, new models for reparations have recently found traction in a number of American cities and states, from Dallas to Baltimore and Virginia to California. By looking at other dispossessed groups — Native Americans, Holocaust survivors, and Japanese internment victims in the 1940s — Henry shows how some groups have won the fight for reparations.

As Hurricane Katrina made apparent, the legacy of racial segregation and economic disadvantage is never far below the surface in America. Long Overdue provides an up-to-date survey of the political and legislative efforts that are now breaking the surface to move reparations into the heart of our national discussion about race.

Published by: NYU Press


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p. vii

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pp. ix-x

Up to a few years ago, I had no interest in writing about reparations.Vernon E. Jordan Jr., an African American Washington power broker, former civil rights leader, and lawyer, was on my campus promoting his then just-released memoir, Vernon Can Read! During the question-and-answer session, someone asked what he thought about the issue...

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Introduction: Insufficient Funds

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pp. 1-8

On May 16, 1997, President Bill Clinton offered the following apology:
The United States government did something that was wrong, deeply, profoundly, morally wrong. It was an outrage to our commitment to integrity and equality for all our citizens. We can end the silence. We can stop turning our head away. ...

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1. A Political and Legal History of Reparations and Race Relations

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pp. 9-32

Beyond the apologies that have been made, such as they are, it is important to understand the political history of race relations and reparation in this country. The U.S. government has never convened anything resembling a truth and reconciliation commission to re-...

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2. From Forty Acres to “We Must Have Our Money”: Reparations from Antebellum to Civil Rights America

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pp. 33-68

Sometime in September 1850, a group of slaves escaped from Maryland and were known to be “lurking” near the village of Christiana in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Their owner, Edward Gorsuch, a citizen of Maryland, came to Philadelphia to obtain, from a commissioner of the court, warrants for their arrest. ...

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3. A Winning Case: Comparing the Rosewood and Greenwood Reparations Claims

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pp. 69-92

The two best-known claims for African American reparations involve well-established Black communities in the South (Rosewood, Florida) and the Southwest (the Greenwood section of Tulsa, Oklahoma). The two communities were destroyed by neighboring Whites at roughly...

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4. The Contemporary Debate: The Legacy of Slavery and the Antireparations Movement

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pp. 93-122

We live in an age of apology. International apologies include Queen Elizabeth’s apology to and reparations for New Zealand’s Maoris for British-initiated nineteenth-century race wars, French President Jacques Chirac’s recognition of French complicity in the deportation of...

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5. Reparations Go Global: Pan Africanism and the World Conference against Racism

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pp. 123-163

It is not surprising that the failure of the national political system to study or seriously discuss the issue of reparations would lead activists to internationalize the debate. After all, obstacles or roadblocks in politics are often overcome by widening the circle of conflict,1 and con-...

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6. A True Revolution of Values: Changing the Culture and Politics of Reparations

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pp. 164-178

In 1978, President Jimmy Carter created the President’s Commission on the Holocaust, which was chaired by Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel. The commission prepared a report for the president in which it recommended the establishment of a “living memorial” to the Holocaust. ...

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Epilogue: We Are American: The Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina

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pp. 179-190

Beyond the horrific images of people screaming for help from rooftops, dead bodies floating down main streets, and armed police officers turning back people trying to flee the floodwaters, one declarative statement stands out in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina: “We are Americans.”1 ...


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pp. 191-222


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pp. 223-239


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pp. 241-247

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About the Author

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p. 249

Charles P. Henry is Professor of African American Studies at the University of California at Berkeley. He also is the author of Ralph Bunche: Model Negro or American Other? and editor of Ralph J. Bunche: Selected Speeches and Writings and Foreign Policy and the Black (Inter)national...

E-ISBN-13: 9780814790809
E-ISBN-10: 0814790801
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814736920
Print-ISBN-10: 0814736920

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2007

OCLC Number: 194380107
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Long Overdue

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • United States -- Race relations.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 20th century.
  • Slavery -- United States -- History.
  • Civil rights movements -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Reparations for historical injustices -- United States
  • Racism -- Political aspects -- United States.
  • African Americans -- Reparations -- History.
  • African Americans -- Civil rights -- History -- 20th century.
  • African Americans -- Legal status, laws, etc. -- History.
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