- The Washington Times - Friday, March 29, 2002

Walt Schnyder, owner of the Arbuckle Food Center in Arkbuckle, Calif., says he doesn't think it's proper that a lawsuit seeking reparations has been filed against companies that used slaves for labor but did not pay them.

"What's past is past. There's nobody still alive who was involved in that," he said yesterday in a telephone interview.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, says the unconpensated slave labor totaled $1.4 trillion. The complaint did not stipulate how much was being sought in damages.

Kevin McDonald, manager on duty at the Purple Shamrock restaurant in Boston, which is home to Fleet Bank, one of the defendants in the suit, said: "If they were wrong, by all means" they should compensate the descendants of slaves who were not paid for their work.

Off-the-cuff opinions about this case were hard to come by, as most people called yesterday were unaware of the suit. And most people, once informed about it, declined to comment.

Ron Gottsfredsen, owner of Austin's Barbershop in Beloit, Wis., officially took that stand. But then he made comments indicating he thought the action was misguided.

He said his ancestors came from a town in Denmark near the German border and that, over the years, there were occasions when they came under the control of the Germans. His family members didn't necessarily like this, Mr. Gottsfredsen said, but added:

"We haven't gotten any francs yet," nor does he expect to receive any.

The barber's comments were reminiscent of those made by Brit Hume, managing editor of Fox News' Washington bureau, when he was asked about the issue of modern-day blacks receiving reparations for slavery. Mr. Hume said he is of Scottish ancestry and pointed out that the Scots suffered at the hands of the British over the centuries. He said, tongue-in-cheek, he would have to talk to British Prime Minister Tony Blair to find out what the British leader intended to do to resolve that situation.

Tom Becka, a talk-show host on radio station KMBZ-AM in St. Louis, said he discussed the reparations litigation yesterday on his show and callers "generally thought it was a bad idea."

"We got a few calls from African-Americans who felt it was a good idea," he said. Most of his callers said they thought it would set a dangerous precedent that could trigger lawsuits by descendants of others who were either unpaid or underpaid for work they had done.

Some of Mr. Becka's callers cited "Chinese who worked on the railroad" as another example of a group victimized in that way, he said.

In Des Moines, Iowa, a man named Mike, owner of Mike's Duke of Oil, said, "I am definitely against slavery and discrimination." But he's not sure he likes the idea of suing businesses for conduct that took place more than a century ago under the direction of long-dead people.

"It's like trying to sue me for something my cousin or someone else did. … I don't know the legitimacy of this lawsuit. I don't know if they have a legal leg to stand on. So much water is under the bridge," he said.

But Mildred Willingham and Aretha Black, two black residents of Pine Bluff, Ark., said they fully support the lawsuit. Ms. Willingham is not moved by arguments that companies today should not be held accountable for the conduct of those who ran the businesses long ago. "It was their people" who worked the slaves and did not pay them, she said.

Ms. Willingham said she believes the slaves' descendants should share the total amount owed.

However, a black female security officer at a senior center in downtown Baltimore was far less certain about the validity of the suit. Asked if seeking reparations was a good idea, the woman, who declined to give her name, said, "Maybe. You really have to think about that … you have to consider what happened way back then, versus conditions today." She refused to be pinned down on the issue.

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