Lonnie Bunch: America’s Moral Debt to African Americans | Smithsonian

“Though the slavery question is settled, its impact is not. The question will be with us always. It is in our politics, our courts, on our highways, in our manner, and in our thoughts all the day, every day.” – Cornelius Holmes

As a historian, I know slavery has left a deep scar on America. The reasons are many. I have found wisdom in the words of Cornelius Holmes, a former slave, interviewed in 1939, a man who saw brutality and separation of families. Holmes shared the dreams and melodies before freedom and then witnessed the reality of freedom.

One reason for my current retrospection is the fine essay by Ta-Nehisi Coates in the June issue of the Atlantic arguing that reparations are deserved and long overdue. He has gathered an amazing array of facts about racism, economics, violence and the role of the U.S. government, implicit and explicit. With pinpoint clarity, Coates has focused a scholarly light that shines into all the dark corners of this shameful chapter in our history.

The debate over reparations—a payment for slavery, segregation and unequal lives—has a beginning, but it seems no end. Our forefathers spoke of the promise of 40 acres and a mule. Our leaders cried out, few as eloquently as Rev. Martin L. King, Jr. more than 50 years ago: “Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check—a check that has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.’ But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity in this nation.”

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Curated from www.smithsonianmag.com

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