- The Washington Times - Monday, June 19, 2000

Only about two dozen blacks braved the heat yesterday on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to urge Congress to compensate them for injuries they say they suffered as a legacy of slavery.

The small group of activists, hundreds fewer than expected at the daylong rally and outnumbered by tourists, said they were stripped of their African culture, their land and their language when their ancestors were taken from their homes and forced into slavery, which ended more than 135 years ago.

Members of the Self Determination Committee threatened to use violence even burning down Washington to achieve their goal if the government doesn't act.

"We came here to confront the president, the Congress and the Supreme Court," said Robert Brock, a Washington, D.C. lawyer who is president of the group. "These are the people who caused the problems of writing the laws to enslave us. And these are the same people who can end this problem."

The group now wants the federal government to apologize and pay $1 million to each black person in the United States by June 18, 2001. They contend they should be compensated as were Japanese Americans who were interned in the United States during World War II and American Indians whose land was taken.

The low turnout yesterday didn't seem to bother organizers, who said they were happy just to hold such a rally on the Mall, Mr. Brock added.

"I'm happy as I can be with this number of people showing up," he said. "Just having this is a success."

"It's going to get bigger and better," said Naomi Turner, who traveled from Corpus Christi, Texas, to take part in the rally. "This is all in the name of Jesus Christ."

The group plans to gather outside the Anacostia home of abolitionist Frederick Douglass at 9 a.m. today and march on the U.S. Capitol.

Yesterday's rally was one of a series of events over the weekend to coincide with Juneteenth, the oldest known celebration of the end of slavery. It falls near the anniversary of June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers arrived at Galveston, Texas, with the news that the Civil War had ended and all slaves were free.

About 75 people, including U.S. Sen. Charles S. Robb, Virginia Democrat, took part in Saturday's slave walk in Richmond that retraced the steps of slaves who were brought for sale or shipment out of Richmond.

Blacks have been lobbying for some form of payment since 1865, when the Freedmen's Bureau promised each freed slave 40 acres and a mule. No one ever collected on the promise.

A bill in 1867 called for the confiscation of Confederate property, which then would be handed over to freed slaves. The modern reparations movement is reckoned by some to have begun with civil rights leader Martin Luther King, who urged blacks to remove their money from white-owned banks and put it in black-owned institutions in 1968.

Since then, several lawsuits have been filed against the federal government seeking compensation for descendants of slaves. Mr. Brock is leading a class-action lawsuit filed in 1997 that asks for $250,000 in gold bullion per person plus financial support of a country in Africa in which blacks in the United States could resettle if they choose.

"We want our own land, and we want to control our own destiny," said the Rev. Najee Muhammad of the Muhammad Mosque in Washington and a representative with the Lost-Found Nation of Islam.

"African-Americans helped build this country, and we have not received one penny," Mr. Muhammad explained. "If we don't receive reparations, our children will be nothing more than underlings."

Tziona Yisrael flew from her home in Jordan to show her support for the group's effort.

"We're due reparations because of the atrocities that were performed against our people," said Mrs. Yisrael, who has a home in New Jersey. "This is our means of getting a new start. This is our opportunity to establish our own educational system. And this is our opportunity to experience and feel true liberty and freedom. It's a chance we cannot forgo."

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