A Time to Repair
Many historians and scholars believe that the first African slaves brought to the New Land arrived in what is now called South Carolina in 1526. Yet, the most historically noted arrival of African slaves was to Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619. When the enslaved population reached approximately four million people in the New Land (by importation and live births), the United States Congress passed a law in 1808 banning the importation of slaves from any foreign country or territory. However, there was still a clandestine slave trade that ensued.
Slavery in America wasn’t officially abolished until December of 1865, with the passage of the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution. At the end of the Civil War in 1865, which was fought over the question of slavery, not states’ rights as many White southerners would have you believe, the process of Reconstruction began.
Reconstruction was a valiant attempt to address some of the horrible effects of chattel slavery. The passing of the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution guaranteed any person born in the United States was a full citizen with due process and equal protection under the law. The 15th Amendment to the Constitution guaranteed all men the right to vote regardless of race, color, creed, or condition of prior servitude. Ironically, Black men could vote even before White women for a brief period of time. Black men were elected to Congress in both the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate. Black men were also elected to State Legislatures.
Nevertheless, with the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln and the elevation of Vice President Andrew Johnson (a southern sympathizer) to the Presidency, Reconstruction was in real danger of being mortally wounded from the start. Reconstruction would last to about 1877. In addition, there were no conditions or penalties placed on the Confederate states other than technically abolishing slavery. There was also no seizing of property or assets, the normal spoils when a country wins a war. In essence, President Andrew Johnson was doing everything he could as fast as possible to return the southern states to their former glory.
After federal troops began to withdraw from the former confederate states now part of the Union, the vestiges of the ugly, racist, and inhumane Confederacy started to reappear in the form of repressive state and local laws that ignored and violated the U.S. Constitution. Black Codes were established to intimidate and threaten the New Black Citizens from exercising their constitutional rights, including due process, voting, and equal protection under the law.
In addition, the creation of the illegal Grandfather Clauses, Poll Taxes, and Literacy Tests were used to terrorize and intimidate Black People into reverting back to a pseudo-Confederacy, state by state. Subsequently, terror in the form of physical violence ensued. False imprisonments allowed former slaves, now free people, to be leased back to former slave owners in an evil scheme known as convict leasing. Confiscation of property under false pretenses and even murder in the form of physical beatings, shootings, and lynchings were regular acts of terror against freed Black people. Former slave owners, Confederate officers, and soldiers were determined to crush any hope of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for newly freed Black people.
From 1865, the beginning of Reconstruction, until 1965, with the passage of the Voting Rights Act, there were many trials, struggles, a few victories, but many more setbacks for Black people during this century-long period. With the passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution, at least on paper, there was an expressed written commitment to grant Black people the same rights as Whites. However, seemingly well-intentioned whites were still fighting for a more perfect Union in their own way. In 1896, in the landmark case of Plessy v. Ferguson, the Supreme Court upheld that racial segregation was legal under the “separate but equal” doctrine pertaining to White and Black people. The severely flawed decision endured for almost 60 years until the Supreme Court’s decision in 1954 ruled that segregation was illegal and overturned Plessy v. Ferguson.
In 1964, the Civil Rights Act was the most powerful legislation passed since the adoption of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called the Civil Rights Act “the second Emancipation.” Yet, race riots continued throughout the twentieth century, not only in the South but also in the North. In 1943, a race riot occurred in Detroit, Michigan. During the riot, twenty-five African Americans were killed and nine Whites. The police killed seventeen African Americans. However, no Whites were killed by the police.
For more than 400 years, Blacks have been catching hell in America, even though Blacks have fought in every war for this country while still being oppressed and abused. There have been reparations paid to many groups in America (rightfully so) but not to African Americans. This nation will never be reconciled and healed until African American descendants accumulate wealth through inheritance comparable to Whites. The problem is racial and institutional racism still exists today in banking, housing, insurance redlining, policing, justice, healthcare, education, and voting. Reparations must offer a chance to begin to repair many centuries of damage to Black People, or this Union will continue to become more imperfect day by day. That’s why there is a valiant effort by a local group of patriots in the City of Detroit to have their voices heard and push for equitable development across broad sectors. The People’s Voice has taken bold steps to place before the citizens of Detroit the question of Reparations.
The People’s Voice has collected thousands of signatures from the citizens of Detroit to amend the Detroit City Ordinance, which will allow for appropriations to be used to begin repairing the historical damage done to African Americans in the City of Detroit. The City Clerk accepted and certified the requisite number of signatures collected by The People’s Voice to place the question on the ballot. However, at the meeting of the Election Commission, The City Clerk and the City Attorney voted against placing the item on the ballot for an ambiguous and vague reason.
This blatant disregard for the will of the people must not stand. The People’s Voice filed a lawsuit against the City Clerk, Election Commission, the Clerk, Janice Winfrey, in her official capacity and the City Attorney, Lawrence Garcia, in his official capacity. A separate complaint was filed with the Secretary of State, but that department has not formally responded, or even acknowledged, our requests for an investigation.
We will not let our voices be extinguished. The fight will continue, and so it did on Friday. It was revealed that the defendants, through a high-ranking Election Commission official, Gina Avery-Walker, filed a false affidavit. The ballot initiative, formally described as a Referendum of Legislation, was ultimately restored to the ballot, and voters in the City of Detroit will be able to vote “YES” on Proposal S on November 2, 2021. We are also encouraging voters to vote “YES” on Proposal R. Both proposals support reparations for African-Americans in the City of Detroit.