On the 52 Anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the organization he co-founded in 1957, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, called for the federal government to pay reparations to descendants of people enslaved in the country.
Slavery began on these shores twelve years after the colonial period began when a shipload of enslaved Africans docked at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619. One hundred and sixty-eight years later ( 1787), when the framers of the constitution met in Philadelphia to charter a new government under the name selected back in 1776 by Thomas Jefferson, as the United States of America, slavery was all but codified. Enslaved Africans were considered the property of any white man — or white woman through inheritance — who could afford to own them.
The practice of enslaving people essentially for their labor stopped with the end of the civil war on April 9, 1865. Then a brief period of Reconstruction began; to remake the country to include the rights of Africans brought to these shores as slaves.
The Reconstruction era ended in 1877 when President Rutherford B. Hayes fulfilled a campaign promise and pulled the federal troops out of the South. Descendants of the formerly enslaved have been losing ground ever since the federal government stopped affirmative steps to compensate the newly freed Africans.
In the weeks leading up to the assassination of Dr. King, he traveled the country drumming up support for his “Poor People’s Campaign”. King believed this campaign would force the federal government to pay reparations to poor Blacks and whites who did not participate in the prosperity of American citizenship.
Charles Steele, Jr., President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, plans to take up this mantle left 52 years ago by Dr. King and petition the government to “partner with citizens to help them get back on track economically.”
“Dr. King was a visionary and global leader. He called for the government to take care of the people. It has taken the Coronavirus for us to see how we are all connected and linked to each other’s survival,” Steele said. Then added, “Dr. King’s vision was not destroyed, it was delayed, but the moment to fulfill that vision is in our hands. The SCLC is going to keep the issues and his dream front and center.”
Steele decried the government stimulus package that calls for giving $1200 payment citizens as “a slap in the face.”
“That is not a salary for folks who have lost their jobs. The money the government is giving is just pocket change. Poor folks need checks until they reach the next rung of the economic ladder,” Steele said.
According to a statement released by Maynard Eaton, Director of Communications for SCLC, the “organization is seeking to extend monthly payments to the poor permanently and to pay reparations for descendants of slaves. The Coronavirus crisis has highlighted the need for America to right the wrongs when it comes to income inequality, which is linked to disparities in education, health care, housing, and access to capital. These life essentials are key components of wealth creation.”
SCLC is demanding congress appropriate “$250 billion for Black-owned business,” Steele said.
Steele took issue with the Trump administration for turning the stimulus money over to the banks to distribute to small businesses.
“The administration is turning the stimulus money over to banks, but banks are the main reason Black Americans can’t get access to wealth and why most Black Americans have lost their savings. Black America lost its wealth when the housing market collapsed, and banks played a major role in that collapse,” Steele argues.
“It’s time for restoration. The COVID-19 stimulus package can assist Black-owned businesses, especially Black-owned banks, and our historically Black colleges and universities. If we get our banks, businesses, and institutions healthy, our communities will recover, and we will achieve Dr. King’s dream for racial and economic equality,” Steele posited.
Harold Michael Harvey is the author of Freaknik Lawyer: A Memoir on the Craft of Resistance. He is a Past President of the Gate City Bar Association. He is the recipient of Gate City’s R. E. Thomas Civil Rights Award, which he received for his pro bono representation of Black college students arrested during Freaknik celebrations in the mid to late 1990s. An avid public speaker, contact him at email@example.com.