Controversial Topic: Reparations for Slavery

Controversial Topic: Reparations for Slavery

Reparations for slavery refers to the idea of compensating the victims of African slavery and their descendants for the abuses suffered under U.S. law. The idea of reparations for the victims of African slavery in America emerged as early as the colonial era, but took on particular relevance after the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation. While some individual former slaves and their descendants have received reparations of some type, the vast majority have not, owing to the absence of any lasting or comprehensive federal policy. This absence keeps this controversial topic relevant, as advocates, activists, and public leaders continue to call for the adoption of some form of reparations, both in compensation for slavery, and for the injustices visited upon succeeding generations of Black Americans. Because this controversial topic remains a largely unsettled matter, reparations is also a popular subject for a persuasive essay.

*Disambiguation: Reparations, in the case of the current controversial topic, refers largely to reparations for Black Americans in recompense for slavery and subsequent institutional racial injustices such as the segregative Jim Crow laws and ongoing claims of police brutality. In the past, America has produced reparations, such as for certain Native American groups and for Japanese Americans who were forcibly relocated into internment camps during World War II. The focus of the present controversial topic, however, is the matter which generates the greatest debate today—reparations for the victims of the African slave trade and their descendants.

The debate topic over reparations today divides, on one side:

  • Those who argue that the United States government has a legal, moral, and practical responsibility to compensate generations of Black Americans, either financially or otherwise, who have been victimized by slavery, segregation, police brutality, mass incarceration, and a host of other racial iniquities; and, on the other side;
  • Those who argue that the statute of limitations has passed on the crimes committed against the victims of African slavery; that the practical complexities of a broad reparations policy are too difficult to navigate; that no one living today should be held responsible for the sins of those who came before them; or that reparations would not be a constructive or effective method of repairing racial inequality in the U.S.

Regardless of the side that one takes in this debate, the matter is quite complex. Technical questions abound, including who should receive reparations, who should pay for reparations, the extent to which ongoing racial injustices beyond slavery should be considered, and the practical concerns over how we can accurately determine the value of the labor, livelihood, freedom, property, and opportunity which slavery denied to Black Americans. According to Wikipedia, “The estimates of the monetary value of stolen slave labor and subsequent discrimination vary ‘from an outrageously low $3.2 million to $4.7 billion,’ and to as much as $12 trillion.”

This underscores not just the philosophical and legal complexity of this issue, but also its sheer practical complexity. In spite of these complexities, both legal tradition and the concept of transitional justice establish a basis for the argument in favor of reparations. In the legal context, “reparation is replenishment of a previously inflicted loss by the criminal to the victim. Monetary restitution is a common form of reparation.”

The approach above applies to compensation for individual crimes. On a broader scale, the philosophy of transitional justice applies to those who have been victimized by institutionalized abuses. In such circumstances, “reparations are measures taken by the state to redress gross and systematic violations of human rights law or humanitarian law through the administration of some form of compensation or restitution to the victims. Of all the mechanisms of transitional justice, reparations are unique because they directly address the situation of the victims. Reparations, if well designed, acknowledge victims’ suffering, offer measures of redress, as well as some form of compensation for the violations suffered.”

This last condition is noteworthy because, in the discourse over reparations and slavery, as well as long-standing racial inequalities, reparations have been proposed in a number forms including or in lieu of direct financial compensation. Based on the understanding that slavery and segregation have created lasting effects that continue to afflict Black communities in the United States, some have proposed reparations in the form of community development, educational initiatives, and the creation of greater opportunity for younger members of these communities.

Black History, Black Freedom, and Black Love — MasterClass
Black History, Black Freedom, and Black Love — MasterClass

A Brief History of The Issue

The issue of reparations is deeply entwined with the movement toward abolition in the United States. The issue of slavery weighed heavily on the conscience of some Founding Fathers, who recognized that holding slaves was contrary to the constitutional philosophies that gave rise to the Revolutionary War, including notions of individual liberty and the constructs of a free market economy. These views converged with the Puritan belief that slavery was morally wrong.

These views brought legal prohibition against slavery in each Northern state over the course of the late 18th and early 19th Centuries. Likewise, importing slaves to the United States was made illegal on the federal level in 1808. This marked the end of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, even as the plantation system persisted in the American South. This contrast made inevitable the abolitionist movement, which applied pressure on the South to emancipate all slaves, and pushed for prohibition against slavery in the American territories which were gradually opening up through Western expansion. Within this abolitionist movement, the movement toward reparations was also born.

Reparations in the Colonial Era

That said, the history of reparations for slavery (if not the actual movement) in the United States actually predates the abolition movement. During the American War for Independence, Warner Mifflin, a Delaware planter from a slave-holding family of Virginia Quakers, became both an early abolitionist and one of the first advocates for reparations. As early as 1778, Mifflin urged his fellow Quakers to renounce slavery and compensate their freed slaves with both cash payments and share-cropping arrangements. He helped to foster support for the practice among Quakers, who came to view reparations both as a practical recompense and as a way of atoning for holding slaves. Historian Gary B. Nash has dubbed Warner Mifflin “the father of American reparationism.” It is noteworthy that in this case, all reparations were voluntary and not enforced by law.

Antebellum Reparations

As the abolition movement gained momentum, and the United States inched closer to its Civil War, the idea of reparations also gained ground. After John Brown’s landmark raid on Harper’s Ferry in protest of slavery, and his subsequent execution, a Scottish-born anti-slavery activist and journalist named James Redpath released Brown’s first biography. In it, the author said that Brown, “was not merely an emancipationist, but a reparationist. He believed, not only that the crime of slavery should be abolished, but that reparation should be made for the wrongs that had been done to the slave. What he believed, he practiced. On this occasion [Missouri raid, 1859], after telling the slaves that they were free, he asked them how much their services had been worth, and—having been answered—proceeded to take property to the amount thus due to the negroes.”

While the concept of enforced reparations gained ground among abolitionists, this would naturally be preconditioned only by emancipation. Thus, only the ensuing Civil War (April 12, 1861), Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation (January 1, 1863), and the war’s resolution (May 9, 1865) could bring about a meaningful push toward reparations.


The end of the Civil War also meant a formal end to slavery and, under President Lincoln, a process of reconciliation and Southern Reconstruction. During the immediate aftermath of the War, a devastated South found itself in a process of rebuilding as well as establishing, for the first time, an economy absent slave labor. Tensions over the bloody war were far from over, and the political dynamics during the era of reconstruction proved as much. Southern Democrats remained embittered by their defeat and unrepentant over their now outlawed slaveholding practices, while Abraham Lincoln’s Republicans widely supported emancipation.

A segment of the Republican party—often identified as Radical Republicans and largely concentrated in Northern states—called for aggressive reforms on behalf of freed slaves. To this end, Radical Republicans supported a direct form of reparations and proposed that confederate farm lands be turned over to the slaves that once worked them.

In 1865, one form of this proposal was actually drafted into law when Union Army General William Tecumseh Sherman issued Special Field Orders, No. 15. On January 16, General Sherman declared that “The islands from Charleston south, the abandoned rice-fields along the rivers for thirty miles back from the sea, and the country bordering the Saint Johns River, Fla., are reserved and set apart for the settlement of the BLACKS now made free by the acts of war and the proclamation of the President of the United States.”

This order granted 400,000 acres of Confederate lands to an estimated 18,000 freed slaves and other Black people living in the South. Dividing the land into 40 acre parcels, the Special Field Orders gave coinage to the phrase “40 Acres and a Mule” as shorthand for reparations that freed slaves were not only promised but actually given.

Lincoln’s Assassination

The restitution was only temporary, however. On April 14, 1865, Confederate sympathizer and prominent stage actor John Wilkes Booth (with the help of 8 subsequently-convicted co-conspirators) assassinated President Lincoln. This placed Vice President Andrew Johnson—a Southern Democrat who had remained loyal to the Union—in the presidency. In spite of his loyalty to the Union, Johnson proved far more sympathetic to the plight of the Confederacy, particularly on the issue of emancipation.

Upon assuming the presidency, Johnson reversed Sherman’s order. The freed slaves were removed from the land, which was then returned to its prior owners. Many calls for reparations since have focused on fulfilling the broken promise made through Special Field Orders, No. 15, if not directly, at least in spirit.

In 1867, U.S. Rep Thaddeus Stevens—a notable Radical Republican—sponsored a bill to have the land returned to the freed slaves, but this bill was defeated. The period of reconstruction gradually drew to an end as the former generals of the Confederate army returned to their states and assumed seats of governance. In the interest of preserving the racial hierarchy which shaped the South before the Civil War, states throughout the former Confederacy ratified “Black Codes,” legal conditions forcing racial segregation. These codes became known broadly as the Jim Crow laws, and they effectively embedded the racial inequalities established during slavery into politics, policing, housing, labor, use of public space, transportation, and more.

This period also gave rise to the Ku Klux Klan, a white supremacist group that carried out terror attacks, lynchings, and murders against Black families and their sympathizers. The Klan’s objective was to provide grassroots support for more official efforts aimed at enforcing segregation and ensuring the preservation of the Southern racial hierarchy.

Henrietta Wood

While the end of reconstruction also brought about the end to any real discourse on a federal reparations policy, one case is worthy of consideration. Henrietta Wood was born into slavery in Kentucky, sold as a teenager to a French man named William Cirode, and in 1848, was registered by Cirode’s wife as free in the state of Ohio.

Five years later, Cirode’s daughter and son-in-law conspired to kidnap Wood. They hired a sheriff named Zebulon Ward to carry out the abduction, and sold Wood back into slavery on the Mississippi plantation of Gerard Brandon.

As the Civil War ended, and the Union Army drew closer, Brandon fled with his slaves to Texas. Wood remained in slavery until 1869, four years after the conclusion of the Civil War.

Returning to Cincinnati, Wood sued Zebulon Ward in 1870 for violating her legally won freedom. The ensuing 1878 trial, Wood v. Ward, resulted in a jury award of $2,500. This was far less than the $20,000 she sought, but is roughly equivalent to $65,000 today, and as such, is the largest sum of compensation ever given for slavery reparations through legal settlement. It would not, however, constitute a precedent by which other freed slaves would pursue reparations, nor did it appear to provide an impetus for reparations based on systemic wrongs against former slaves and their descendants.

20th Century Precedents for Reparations in U.S. History

Though no formal federal reparations have been made for slavery since General Sherman’s field orders, the United States has used reparations in compensation for systemic abuses. Each of these is an instance in which the federal government has formally acknowledged wrongdoing, and in some instances, in which the government has compensated the victims and/or their descendants:

  • In 1971, President Richard Nixon signed into law the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA), which granted Alaska natives the single largest land claims settlement in U.S. history, transferring land, funding, and a portion of the state’s oil revenue to native Alaskan groups.
  • In 1988, President Ronald Reagan issued the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, in which the U.S. formally apologized to Japanese Americans who were forcibly removed to internment camps during World War II. Survivors were granted $20,000 each, though this compensation was not extended to descendants of the victims.
  • In 1993, President Bill Clinton issued an Apology Resolution, on behalf to the United States, for its deposing of Hawaii’s native monarchy in 1893, though the apology included neither financial compensation nor any binding legal impact.

These gestures suggest the scope of possible remedies offered as a form (or in place) of reparations for institutional abuses. In limited scope, some such remedies have also been applied to institutionalized abuses of Black Americans:

  • In 1994, the States of Florida passed the Rosewood Compensation bill, which awarded financial damages to the survivors and their relatives impacted by a deadly 1923 race riot in the city of Rosewood, Florida.
  • In 1997, President Bill Clinton formally apologized and issued financial compensation to the victims of the “Tuskegee Study,” in which 600 Black men who were involuntarily enrolled in a “treatment program” for syphilis were in fact left untreated for the purposes of experimental observation.
  • In 2005, the City of Chicago created a reparations fund designed to compensate the victims of racially-driven police brutality during the 1970s and 1980s.

Formal Apology and HR. 40

Each of the precedents above has contributed to an increasingly visible push for and further reaching conception of reparations for slavery. In 2008, Congress formally issued a Resolution which “(A) acknowledges the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery and Jim Crow laws; (B) apologizes to African-Americans on behalf of the people of the United States, for the wrongs committed against them and their ancestors who suffered under slavery and Jim Crow laws; and (C) expresses its recommitment to the principle that all people are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and calls on all people of the United States to work toward eliminating racial prejudices, injustices, and discrimination from our society.”

The apology, in formally acknowledging the systemic crimes both of slavery and Jim Crow, would give grounding to subsequent calls for reparations. Beyond this apology, starting in 1989, the late Michigan Representative John Conyers introduced a bill to Congress every single year calling for a deeper study of the reparations issue. This bill failed to gain traction at any point prior to Conyers departure from the House of Representatives in 2017. Conyers died in the fall of 2019, but not before his bill gained new life.

On January 3, 2019, Texas Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D) introduced H.R. 40—Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act—to the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill—symbolically named in reference to “40 acres and a mule”—marks the most current and prominent effort to procure reparations for systemic abuses that include slavery, Jim Crow, mass incarceration, housing discrimination, police brutality and more.

The introduction of this bill helped to make reparations a notable topic of conversation during the 2020 Democratic primary, where several notable candidates endorsed reparations, especially in light of catalyzing events such as the police killing of George Floyd, the resulting Black Lives Matter-led protests, and outsized impact of the COVID crisis on communities of color. Reparations are opposed almost uniformly by the current leaders of the Republican party, a viewpoint best represented by Repulican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who proclaimed on the subject that reparations are impractical because “none of us currently living are responsible” for slavery.

Top Ten Historical Influencers in the Reparations Debate

Using our own backstage Ranking Analytics tools, we’ve compiled a list of the most influential figures concerning the issue of reparations for slavery in the U.S. between 1900 and 2020. Our Rankings produced a list of advocates, activists, and public leaders in both the U.S. and U.K. who have taken a role in calling for reparations for slavery. Our analytics also included a number of critics or opponents of reparations for slavery, including at least one entry in the Top Ten below. The list was vetted to exclude heads of state and pop culture figures without a direct role in the debate.

Top Ten Historical Influencers in the Reparations Debate
1Ta-nehisi Coates
2Omali Yeshitela
3Sekou Sundiata
4Bernie Grant
5Hilary Beckles
6Quanell X
7Boris Bittker
8John H. Conyers
9Dorothy Tillman
10Burgess Owens

Top Ten Most Influential Books About Reparations

Using our own backstage Ranking Analytics tools, we’ve compiled a list of the most influential books which touch on the topic of reparations for slavery in the U.S. between 1900 and 2020. This list is composed of texts by vocal advocates for reparations, those by historians which explore the practical history of reparations, and those which investigate the real and lasting impacts of slavery in the United States.

Top Ten Most Influential Books About Reparations
RankBook Title
1Between the World and Me
2America in the King Years
3The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America
4How Europe Underdeveloped Africa
5Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome
6Times Guide to the House of Commons
7Racism without Racists
8The Tyranny of Guilt
9The Tears of the White Man
10The Audacity of Hope
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The Current Controversy

The reparations controversy has gained visibility over the last several years as the United States has confronted another period of racial reckoning. With the police killing of George Floyd, and racial tensions bubbling over into nationwide protests during the summer of 2020, the conversation over reparations has come to include a far-reaching set of systemic crimes and an array of proposals for redressing these crimes.

However, just as tensions persist over broader issues of race in the United States, views on reparations remain sharply divided across racial and political lines. According to a 2020 poll from the Washington Post, the majority of Americans, at a rate of 63%, don’t believe that the descendants of slaves should be given financial compensation. However, a closer look shows that race plays a major role in one’s viewpoint. Accordingly, while 75% of white Americans oppose reparations, 82% of Black Americans support paid reparations.

It’s also worth noting that regional, demographic, and ideological shifts in party identification have reversed the relative positions of the Republican and Democratic parties. While the Republicans of the post-Civil War period were concentrated in the North and fought in favor of emancipation and reparations, the seats of power for today’s Republican party are concentrated in the South, have more direct historical connections to slave-holding ancestors, and are broadly opposed to reparations. By contrast, the former party of Southern Democrats which fought to preserve slavery and subsequently instituted Southern Black Codes was essentially extinguished by the Civl Rights Act of 1964 which dismantled Jim Crow. Today, the seats of power for the Democratic Party are largely concentrated in the North, have been more sympathetic to the causes of the Civil Rights movement and, as such, are more likely today to support or push legislation for reparations.

Both the racial and political divides within this issue will figure prominently into the battle around H.R. 40 or any further policy initiatives around reparations.

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A Quick Overview of Our Methodology

Our goal in presenting subjects that generate controversy is to provide you with a sense of some of the figures both past and present who have driven debate, produced widely-recognized works of research, literature or art, proliferated their ideas widely, or who are identified directly and publicly with some aspect of this debate. By identifying the researchers, activists, journalists, educators, academics, and other individuals connected with this debate-and by taking a closer look at their work and contributions-we can get a clear but nuanced look at the subject matter. Rather than framing the issue as one side versus the other, we bring various dimensions of the issue into discussion with one another. This will likely include dimensions of the debate that resonate with you, some dimensions that you find repulsive, and some dimensions that might simply reveal a perspective you hadn’t previously considered.

On the subject of reparations, this requires us to consider the key terms-“reparations,” “black reparations,” and “reparations for slavery,” as well as key groups who have advocated prominently for reparations including the “NAACP” and the “Republic of New Africa.” And because the issue of reparations is so closely tied to the movements toward abolition and emancipation, one of the best ways to frame this issue is to spotlight historical influencers who fell on either side of the battle over emancipation. Those supporting emancipation and reparations included the “Radical Republicans” and those who opposed these forces included the “Ku Klux Klan,” “Southern Democrats,” and “Segregationists.” By extension of their activities in opposition to emancipation and reconstruction, these groups also stood in stark opposition to reparations.

Our InfluenceRanking engine gives us the power to scan the academic and public landscape surrounding the reparations issue using key terminology to identify consequential influencers. As with any topic that generates public debate and disagreement, this is a subject of great depth and breadth. We do not claim to probe either the bottom of this depth or the borders of this breadth. Instead, we offer you one way to enter into this debate, to identify key players, and through their contributions to the debate, to develop a fuller understanding of the issue and perhaps even a better sense of where you stand.

For a closer look at how our InfluenceRankings work, check out our methodology.

Otherwise get started with a look at the key words we used to explore this subject:

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Key Terms:


The basic terminology driving this controversy, reparations refers to compensation awarded to the victims of systemic human rights abuses. Influencers in this subject area include activists, attorneys, and academics who have advocated for reparations as a remedy for Black slavery in the U.S.


  • Adjoa Aiyetoro is a lawyer, an activist and the former executive director of the National Conference of Black Lawyers . She was the chief legal consultant to the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America and co-chairperson of their Reparations Coordinating Committee. She is now Professor Emerita at the William H. Bowen School of Law at the University of Arkansas, Little Rock.
  • Ronald L. Cohen is a social psychologist whose research is focused on justice. He is a faculty member at Bennington College and the co-author or editor of several books and numerous peer-reviewed journal articles. In addition to his work as a researcher and teacher, Cohen has served as a dean at Bennington College, as a co-founder of the Bennington Community Justice Center, and as a member of the Bennington County Reparative Board.
  • Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga was an American political activist who played a major role in the Japanese American redress movement. She was the lead researcher of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, a bipartisan federal committee appointed by Congress in 1980 to review the causes and effects of the Japanese American incarceration during World War II. Herzig-Yoshinaga, who was confined in the Manzanar, California and Jerome and Rohwer, Arkansas concentration camps as a young woman, uncovered government documents that debunked the wartime administration’s claims of “military necessity” and helped compile the CWRIC’s final report, Personal Justice Denied, which led to the issuance of a formal apology and reparations for former camp inmates. She also contributed pivotal evidence and testimony to the Hirabayashi, Korematsu, and Yasui coram nobis cases.

Black Reparations

In specific reference to the push for compensation to the victims of slavery and their descendants, this search term yielded a set of influencers including activists and civil rights advocates, as well as economists and researchers.


  • William A. “Sandy” Darity Jr. is an American economist and researcher. Darity’s research spans economic history, development economics, and monetary theory, but the bulk of his research is devoted to inequality in the context of race. In particular, for his 2005 paper in the Journal of Economics and Finance, Darity is known as the ‘founder of stratification economics.’ His varied research interests have also included the African diaspora, the economics of black reparations, group-based post-traumatic stress disorder, and social and economic policy as they relate to race and ethnicity.
  • Yuri Kochiyama was an American civil rights activist. Influenced by her Japanese-American family’s internment, her association with Malcolm X, and her Maoist beliefs, she advocated for many causes, including black separatism, the anti-war movement, reparations for Japanese-American internees, and the rights of people imprisoned by the U.S. government for violent offenses whom she considered to be political prisoners.
  • Imari Obadele was a black nationalist, advocate for reparations, and president of the Republic of New Afrika.

Reparations for Slavery

Specific use of this terminology led to a group of influencers from directly within the periods of abolition, emancipation, and reconstruction. These figures played varying important roles in laying the groundwork for arguments in favor of reparations.


  • Henrietta Wood was an American enslaved woman who won the largest verdict ever awarded for slavery reparations in the United States. Born as a slave in Kentucky, but freed as an adult, Wood was later kidnapped and sold back into slavery. After the American Civil War, Wood successfully sued her kidnapper and won financial damages.
  • Callie House was a leader of the National Ex-Slave Mutual Relief, Bounty and Pension Association, one of the first organizations to campaign for reparations for slavery in the United States.
  • Queen Mother Dr. Delois Blakely, born in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, has been an American nun, a writer, and activist. She is the successor of Queen Mother Audley Moore. She was recognized as the Queen Mother of the naming ceremony of the African Burial Ground National Monument by the U.S. National Park Service and Department of the Interior in 2003. She attended the unveiling ceremony of the United Nations’ permanent memorial “The Ark of Return” on March 25, 2015. As a goodwill ambassador to Africa at the United Nations, she claims to represent the 55 million displaced Africans of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, and calls for reparations for slavery. She has published books and articles on self-reliance, education, recreation and culture.


The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was among the first, and remains among the most notable, legal advocacy groups pushing for the interests of Black Americans. Among the numerous fronts where it wages this fight, the NAACP is a proponent of reparations, and a number of its prominent leaders past and present have organized and written in favor of reparations.


  • Ulysses Simpson Wiggins was an American doctor, civil rights activist, president of the Camden County branch of the NAACP, and president of the New Jersey Conference of Branches of the NAACP. Wiggins was a proponent of desegregating Camden’s schools during his time as president of the Camden NAACP, and he was a well respected leader in his community.
  • Roscoe Dunjee was an American civil rights activist, journalist, and editor in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He founded the Black Dispatch in 1915, the first black newspaper in Oklahoma City, and used it as a platform to support civil rights and reveal injustices. Long active in the local chapter of the NAACP, in 1932 he brought together several chapters to found the state chapter or branch of the NAACP. He served as its president for 16 years, and was also on the national board of the NAACP.
  • Albert Enoch Pillsbury was a Boston lawyer who served in both houses of the Massachusetts legislature, president of the Massachusetts State Senate, and as the Attorney General of Massachusetts from 1891 to 1894. In addition to being a member of the National Negro Committee, the precursor to the NAACP, Pillsbury was a member of the Boston Committee to Advance the Cause of the Negro, which in 1911 became a branch of the NAACP. It was Pillsbury who drafted the bylaws of the NAACP. In 1913, he resigned his membership in the American Bar Association when that organization rejected the membership of William H. Lewis, a black assistant U.S. attorney and supporter of Booker T. Washington. In 1913, Pillsbury was awarded an honorary LL.D. degree from Howard University. It was there he delivered his speech illuminating, defending and praising President Lincoln’s role in ending slavery that became a small book, Lincoln and Slavery.
  • Elbert Williams was an African-American from Brownsville, Tennessee and an early leader in the civil rights movement Williams was one of the five charter members of the NAACP of Brownsville’s NAACP Branch. Williams is known to be the first NAACP member to be lynched and/or murdered for his civil rights activities.

Republic of New Afrika (RNA)

The Republic of New Afrika was a black nationalist organization which fought to advance Black Civil Rights and openly called for reparations over slavery and Jim Crow.


  • Queen Mother Moore was an African-American civil rights leader and a black nationalist who was friends with such civil rights leaders as Marcus Garvey, Nelson Mandela, Winnie Mandela, Rosa Parks, and Jesse Jackson. She was a figure in the American Civil Rights Movement and a founder of the Republic of New Afrika. Dr. Delois Blakely was her assistant for 20 years. Blakely was later enstooled in Ghana as a Nana.
  • Safiya Bukhari was an American political prisoner and member of the Black Panther Party. She was also the co-founder of the Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition , the Jericho Movement for U.S. Political Prisoners and Prisoners of War, and was the vice president of the Republic of New Afrika.
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Radical Republicans

The progressive wing of the Party of Lincoln, Radical Republicans were a group of office-holders who pushed aggressively for reforms to both improve opportunities and promote recompense for freed slaves. Reparations were a major part of the Radical Republican platform. Key influencers here would be among the most visible post-war advocates for reparations.


  • Charles West Hornor was a lawyer and Reconstruction Era political activist who was secretary of the New Orleans Freedmens Aid Association in New Orleans following the end of the Civil War. He worked with Thomas J. Durant, who was also involved with politics and the causes of freedmen and social reform. Louisiana history describes Mr. Hornor as among the leading white radicals, Radical Republicans, in New Orleans at the time. Hornor represented Thomas J. Allen in a case before the U.S. Supreme court. He introduced the first female lawyer to ever appear before the U.S. Supreme Court.He received a letter of support from residents in New York for nomination to fill a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court after the 1865 death of John Catron. The vacant seat was eliminated by congress to prevent Democrat Andrew Johnson, who became president after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, from filling the seat.
  • Thaddeus Stevens was a member of the United States House of Representatives from Pennsylvania and one of the leaders of the Radical Republican faction of the Republican Party during the 1860s. A fierce opponent of slavery and discrimination against African Americans, Stevens sought to secure their rights during Reconstruction, leading the opposition to U.S. President Andrew Johnson. As chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee during the American Civil War, he played a leading role, focusing his attention on defeating the Confederacy, financing the war with new taxes and borrowing, crushing the power of slave owners, ending slavery, and securing equal rights for the Freedmen.
  • Alfred Madison Cate was an American politician, soldier and farmer who served two terms in the Tennessee Senate from 1865 to 1869. A Radical Republican, he generally supported the policies of Governor William G. Brownlow, including ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. He served as chairman of the Republican State Central Committee in the late 1860s.
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Ku Klux Klan

A group of white supremacists who began organizing following the end of the Civil War, they pursued an agenda of terror against recently-freed slaves. Though the Klan was a grassroots organization that permeated the former confederacy, it played a prominent role in helping to make Jim Crow a reality. Often, the Klan carried out attacks, lynchings, and murders without fear of reprisal. Its tactics helped initiate the period of segregation that ensued for the next century. Influencers here include notable leaders of this terror group.


  • Thomas Frederick Dixon Jr. was an American white supremacist, successively a politician, lawyer, Baptist minister, lecturer, novelist, playwright, and filmmaker. Referred to as a “professional racist”, Dixon wrote two best-selling novels, The Leopard’s Spots: A Romance of the White Man’s Burden - 1865-1900 and The Clansman: A Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan , that romanticized Southern white supremacy, endorsed the Lost Cause of the Confederacy, opposed equal rights for blacks, and glorified the Ku Klux Klan as heroic vigilantes. Film director D. W. Griffith adapted The Clansman for the screen in The Birth of a Nation, which inspired the creators of the 20th-century rebirth of the Klan.
  • James Rufus Bratton was a doctor, army surgeon, civic leader, and leader in the Ku Klux Klan with whom he was guilty of committing numerous crimes. Bratton trained in medicine in Philadelphia in the 1840s but spent most of his life in Yorkville, South Carolina. He joined the Confederate Army as an assistant surgeon in April 1861, the opening month of the American Civil War. After the war, he became an opponent of Reconstruction and a leader of the Ku Klux Klan. He was one of the leaders linked in the lynching and killing of local black leader Jim Williams. This led to a string of violent attacks which eventually led to a large group of York County blacks emigrating to Liberia. Bratton fled to London, Ontario, to escape prosecution, but later was able to return to South Carolina, where he pursued his career in medicine for the remainder of his life.
  • Frank Eugene Farnsworth was an American political organizer who was best known for being King Kleagle of the Ku Klux Klan in Maine. Based in Portland, Maine, Farnsworth recruited thousands of men and women to the Ku Klux Klan during the group’s peak from 1923-1924.
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Southern Democrats

In direct opposition to Radical Republicans, Southern Democrats were largely the former leaders and generals of the Confederacy. Their loyalty was largely to a Southern way of life which included slavery. Though slavery had been banished by the Emancipation Proclamation, the Southern Democrats effectively reversed reparations such as those ordered by General Sherman, resisted the calls for reparations from Radical Republicans, and ultimately presided over a segregated South until the Civil Rights Act of 1964. At that juncture, the Southern Democrats effectively disbanded, leading party leaders like Strom Thurmond to switch allegiances and establish the modern-day Republican Party.


  • Adlai Ewing Stevenson served as the 23rd vice president of the United States from 1893 to 1897. Previously, he served as a representative from Illinois in the late 1870s and early 1880s. After his subsequent appointment as assistant postmaster general of the United States during Grover Cleveland’s first administration , he fired many Republican postal workers and replaced them with Southern Democrats. This earned him the enmity of the Republican-controlled Congress, but made him a favorite as Grover Cleveland’s running mate in 1892, and he duly became vice president of the United States.
  • Randal William McGavock was an American lawyer, Democratic politician, Southern planter, and colonel in the Confederate States Army. He served as the Mayor of Nashville, Tennessee from 1858 to 1859.
  • Howell Cobb was an American political figure. A southern Democrat, Cobb was a five-term member of the United States House of Representatives and Speaker of the House from 1849 to 1851. He also served as the 40th Governor of Georgia and as a Secretary of the Treasury under President James Buchanan.
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While slavery was ended, Jim Crow laws made segregation a reality in the South for a century. The state and municipal governments in the former states of the Confederacy institutionalized racial inequality in their schools, restaurants, public restrooms, modes of transportation, and every other aspect of public life. Their actions would give rise to a whole new range of systemic abuses which advocates of reparations believe must be addressed. Influencers include those who played a role in instituting and protecting Jim Crow in the South.


  • Asa Earl Carter was a 1950s Ku Klux Klan leader, segregationist speech writer, and later Western novelist. He co-wrote George Wallace’s well-known pro-segregation line of 1963, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever”, and ran in the Democratic primary for governor of Alabama on a segregationist ticket. Years later, under the alias of supposedly-Cherokee writer Forrest Carter, he wrote The Rebel Outlaw: Josey Wales, a Western novel that led to a 1976 National Film Registry film, and The Education of Little Tree, a best-selling, award-winning book which was marketed as a memoir but which turned out to be fiction.
  • Bill Beeny is a Baptist minister and self-declared segregationist who led organizations in St. Louis, Missouri, during the 1960s. More recently he has worked to popularize his theory that the American singer Elvis Presley is still living.>
  • Billy James Hargis was an American Christian evangelist. At the height of his popularity in the 1950s and 1960s, his Christian Crusade ministry was broadcast on more than 500 radio stations and 250 television stations. He promoted an anti-Communist, segregationist message as well as evangelizing, and founded a radio station, monthly newspaper, and a college in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to support his ministries. In 1974, several students at his American Christian College accused Hargis of sexual misconduct; however, the Tulsa district attorney found no evidence or wrongdoing. Hargis went into partial retirement, and the college closed in 1977. He continued to publish his newspaper and write books.
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Influential Organizations Involved in the Reparations Controversy

If you would like to study this topic in more depth, check out these key organizations...

Supporters of Reparations

Groups that Have Voiced Opposition to Reparations

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