The Reverend Al Sharpton greets 2020 Presidential candidate, Beto O’Rourke at the 28th Annual National Action Network Conference in Manhattan NY on April 3, 2019. (Andrew Schwartz/for New York Daily News)
I have lived long enough to be embarrassed for politicians and others who don’t know history. Such ignorance is especially galling when presidential hopefuls go to kiss the ring of the ignominious Al Sharpton to seek either his blessing or neutrality as they pursue their party’s nomination at the top of its 2020 ticket.
So my civil rights bones rattled when major figures — such as Beto O’Rourke, Julian Castro, Kamala Harris and Cory Booker — went to Sharpton’s “House of Justice” and expressed their support for or signaled interest in federal legislation that would consider reparations for the descendants of African-American slaves.
Where have these dolts been for the past several decades? As recently as 1992, Sharpton backed a “Million Youth March” in Harlem that revived the idea of reparations. That March was scantily attended — it having been convened by a “black leader” even more wretched and discredited than Sharpton, Khalid Muhammad, an unrepentant anti-Semite and black separatist. The march fizzled, as did the demand for slavery reparations.
Indeed, historically all the sound and fury about reparations for the descendants of African-American slaves has been just that — noise and racial rhetoric.
But now, against the backdrop of a 2020 presidential race, mainstream Democrats are giving lip service to considering — er, “studying” the ways of providing “reparations” that, if serious and honestly pursued, would run in the trillions, go into the pockets of people many generations removed from slavery and make a mockery of actual attempts to repair moral damage done.
2020 Presidential candidate, Julian Castro speaks at the 28th Annual National Action Network Conference in Manhattan NY on April 3,2019. (Andrew Schwartz/for New York Daily News)
Inflationary times have already overtaken the meager $500 million cost of reparations that black activist James Forman demanded of white churches and synagogues in the form of his Black Manifesto, delivered at Riverside Church circa 1969. That helped birth a bill offered by Rep. John Conyers to have Congress spend millions to form a “study commission” on methods and means to “remedy” the scourge of slavery on the African-American population. It languished in Congress for decades — only to be recently revived by black Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee.
But the more one thinks about the idea, the less sense it makes.
Who would get them and why? Would someone with two slaves in his or her family three get half of what someone with four slaves in his or her family tree receives? Would middle-class and poor blacks get the same? Would reparations be in lieu of affirmative-action programs, which also purport to right historic injustices, or in addition to them?
Those are just the start of the questions, but unlike in past decades, many if not most “civil rights” and black nationalist groups have joined forces to make “reparations” a legitimate item on the racial progress agenda. Gone are the luminaries among black intellectuals and leaders who voiced their disgust and distrust of “fake reparations” as either an “apology” for slavery or as a sop to black charities and “rights” organizations that thirst for bounty from a reparations pot.
Dead and buried are such big black voices as Bayard Rustin’s — who in the 1960s and 1970s lashed out at reparations for slavery as a scam, an insult, and a “handout.” The NAACP’s leader, Roy Wilkins, had done likewise. The entire NAACP in those heady years rejected reparations as a “preposterous idea.”
Sorely missing in this current national conversation is the sagacious guidance of black newspaper columnist and public citizen Carl Rowan who as recently as 1997 had dismissed reparations as “a profitless diversion.” “Just give today’s black man genuine hope,” he said, “then a fair chance at learning and training, and then a proud way to make an honest dollar to sustain a loving family, and he will not dwell on slavery or any other of yesteryear’s injustices.”
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