The moonlit wings reflect the stars that guide me towards salvation

Israel Malachi

It is election season once again in America, it seems to roll around pretty quickly. There are many local elections, even though it isn’t a big national election year.
One race that has made some headlines as of late, is the mayoral contest in St. Petersburg, Florida. One of the candidates in the contest, Paul Congemi, became extremely agitated in a recent debate with his opponent, Jesse Nevel, that he uttered the classic Archie Bunker-esque “Go back to Africa!” retort, after a heated discussion about reparations being owed African-American citizens.

The exchange between Congemi, his opponent Jesse Nevel, and people connected to the Uhuru Solidarity Movement followed a discussion over reparations — the idea that African-Americans in the US should be compensated for the nation’s legacy of slavery and racial inequality.
Congemi and Nevel, who are both white men, disagree on the subject, which led to Congemi’s outburst.
“Mr. Nevel, you and your people talk about reparations, the reparations that you talk about, Mr. Nevel, your people already got your reparations. Your reparations came in the form of a man named Barack Obama,” Congemi said.
“My advice to you, if you don’t like it here in America, planes leave every hour from Tampa airport. Go back to Africa. Go back to Africa. Go back!”
Though Nevel is white, he has previously expressed support for reparations and the Uhuru Solidarity Movement. His campaign slogan in the St. Petersburg race is “Unity Through Reparations.”
Congemi bristled at that element of Nevel’s platform on Wednesday, calling him a “self-hating white man.” Congemi is a former Democrat who became a Republican after President Barack Obama declared his support for same-sex marriage. He is considered a longshot candidate in the race, obviously for some good reasons, not the least of which, being, inability to argue a point without resorting to crass, insulting generalizations.

But what of reparations? This idea comes up from time to time, what should we, as a nation, do to compensate those who were forced into servitude, against their will, for zero compensation? If any actual slaves were still alive, the answer would be easy. The plantation owners would be easily liable for back wages, along with punitive damages, and you can be sure that there would be opportunistic lawyers clamoring to sign up potential plaintiffs!

But here we are, 154 years past the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, and sadly, there are no more surviving ex-slaves. Are their descendants 3 or 4 generations removed entitled to compensation? And if so, from whom? Perhaps the descendants of the plantation owners? The US government? What does the law say?

There have been numerous Federal lawsuits aimed at getting reparations from corporations, banking institutions, textile companies and such, but the Supreme Court has largely been on the “no reparations” side of the fence, usually refusing to hear the cases. Recently, however, the Supreme Court did side with a descendant of a slave who was directly promised payment by the federal government, but never received it.

61-year old Abraham Brown filed a lawsuit against the federal government in 2011, accusing the United States of violating their obligations to his ancestor, who died in 1891. His great-grandfather, Elijah Brown, along with 18,000 other freed slaves who had fought for the Union in the American Civil War, had been promised “40 acres of land and a mule” by the U.S. army in 1865, but never received anything.

By a narrow 5-4 vote, the Supreme court ruled that the U.S. government had to hold the promises made to these 18,000 freed slaves, by granting the promised acreage and animals to their descendants.
The Supreme court decision is based on military orders issued during the American Civil War. The orders dealing specifically with the freed slaves are called Special Field Orders, No. 15, and were issued by General William Tecumseh Sherman, commander of the Military Division of the Mississippi of the United States Army, on January 16, 1865.

They provided for the confiscation of 400,000 acres of land along the Atlantic coast of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida and the dividing of it into parcels of not more than 40 acres, on which were to be settled approximately 18,000 freed slave families and other Blacks then living in the area.
For the duration of the civil war, military officers had both special executive and legislative powers, and therefore, the Supreme Court judged that  General Sherman’s field orders have the same legal status as laws issued by the Congress, and have to be respected by the American government.
The decision of the Supreme court could have some major consequences, as it implies that the descendants of the 18,000 other free slave families covered by the 1865 field order.
As far as general, blanket “reparations” in the form of money being distributed by the government to any person who can trace their lineage back to the victims of legalized slavery, the situation does not look hopeful. The question of culpability would hinge on whether or not the Federal Government did anything to attempt a good-faith effort to stop slavery.

From April 12, 1861, to April 9, 1865, the U.S. waged a war on rogue states that refused to end slavery. 364,511 Union soldiers died in the conflict. Ironically,  Between the years 1501-1866, 305,326 Africans were brought as slaves to the U.S. and the general consensus among historians is that the total number of slaves brought to the United States is around 350,000. I would venture that God exacted a toll on the U.S. of one soldier’s life for every slave ever imported to U.S. soil.

What more could we, as a nation, have done? Plenty more. The fact remains that African-Americans do feel disenfranchised in this country, but they should not have to “go back to Africa” to get relief. We all need to make a conscious effort to be inclusive of all races in our society, not because we are required by law, but because it is the right thing to do.