- The Washington Times - Friday, September 7, 2001

The Rev. Jesse Jackson will make reparations for the past enslavement of blacks his No. 1 issue this fall, an aide to the civil rights leader promised yesterday.
The 59-year-old Mr. Jackson will hold a press conference at the Rainbow/PUSH headquarters in Chicago this morning to announce details of his new campaign.
"It is something new, a new priority," said Nizam Arain, acting press secretary for Mr. Jackson, who is scheduled to return tonight from the U.N. World Conference Against Racism. "It was raised and discussed at our annual convention [in August]. There are a variety of angles he intends to use, and I know that legislation is one, maybe even the top angle."
Mr. Jackson stepped up his rhetoric on reparations to American blacks for slavery at the conference this week, telling a news service that "we must make crooked ways straight."
"We have fewer services and less education. We are disproportionately jailed and killed by the state. We have shorter life spans. We have less access to capital," Mr. Jackson told Reuters during the event, which ended yesterday.
Only one African nation, Nigeria, stated during the conference that reparations were not necessary.
Mr. Jackson has had considerable success in his advocacy efforts over the years, from eliciting promises and money from corporate America to enhancing diversity programs, to getting out the black vote in record numbers.
Reparations has never been a top priority for Mr. Jackson, although he has broached the subject over the years. In 1997, he and other civil rights leaders met with President Clinton in the hopes of extracting an official apology for the existence of slavery in the United States.
"An apology is in order," said Mr. Jackson. "But you must not only apologize with your lips. Repent, repair and remedy go together."
In 1993, Mr. Jackson called on Western nations to pay reparations to Africa. Yet he did not mention that the reparations scheme would apply to U.S. blacks.
But emboldened by the acrimonious climate at the conference in South Africa this week, Mr. Jackson began making explicit references to the black community's growing push for reparations.
"In many ways, Africa subsidized America and Europe's development," he told BBC Radio 4's Today program. "If you don't feel apologetic for slavery, if you don't feel apologetic for colonialism, if you feel proud of it, then say that."
Mr. Jackson said that the limited U.S. involvement at the U.N. conference was due to the fear of addressing the issue of reparations. The United States withdrew its participation from the conference following numerous criticisms of Israel's role in the conflict in the Middle East.
"We used the Middle East controversy as an excuse [to avoid slavery]," he said Monday.
Civil rights groups have for years advocated financial compensation for descendants of slaves. The manner of compensation has varied, from sending out sums of money to the country's 34 million blacks, to increased funding for predominantly black schools.
A powerful core of civil rights and class-action lawyers, which includes Johnnie Cochran Jr., is now preparing a lawsuit seeking reparations for American blacks descended from slaves — the undisclosed amount being sought is said by some to be near a trillion dollars.
A date for filing the action has not been confirmed.
Other movements demanding reparations have progressed slowly, gaining stature during the past decade.
One of the most prominent has been the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America, known as N'COBRA, which was formed in 1988. The following year, Rep. John Conyers Jr., Michigan Democrat, introduced a bill calling for a committee to study the effects of slavery.
The bill has foundered in committee each session since.
Mr. Conyers did not return phone calls for comment.
N'COBRA treasurer Kalonji Olusegun said yesterday that Mr. Jackson's entry into the debate could give the movement important momentum and place the issue at the forefront of American politics.
"His joining of this issue is an indication of the snowballing effect that has occurred in the past year and a half," Mr. Olusegun said. "It has been very difficult for this country to know that it is based on white supremacy."
Eleven cities have so far passed resolutions to study the impact of slavery; the wording of several of those resolutions was based on Mr. Conyers' bill.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has called for a study on reparations since 1991. The Washington office of the NAACP has also lobbied for progress on Mr. Conyers' bill. Mr. Jackson's entry into the fray could give all reparations efforts a boost, an official said.
"Jesse Jackson has always brought a constructive light to these issues," said NAACP legislative director Hilary Shelton. "He is masterful at articulating the issues and he comes to the table with great credibility."
But when Clara Peoples, a reparations advocate from Portland, Ore., asked Mr. Jackson for help several years ago, he rejected her request.
"He didn't pay us any mind," said Miss Peoples, who heads a movement called "Reparations — Yes." "But we're happy to have him aboard now."

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide