Monday numbers: A closer look at the case for reparations for Black Americans

By: - March 15, 2021 6:00 am

Dr. William Darity (L) and co-author A. Kirsten Mullen (R)

Last week Policy Watch spoke with Dr. William Darity, professor of Public Policy at Duke University, about his book, From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century. Co-authored with A. Kirsten Mullen, the book examines the issues and makes the case for financial reparations to Black Americans, who have been historically and systematically denied financial, social and political equality in America.

“The wealth gap that we observe today is the cumulative intergenerational effect of racial injustice in the United States,” Darity said at a remote Duke University event on the issue held earlier this month.

“We think that this wealth gap is what should be the primary target of a reparations initiative, that any well-designed reparations plan for Black descendants of U.S. slavery must be designed to eliminate the racial wealth differential,” Darity said.

“The starting point is the failure to provide Black Americans who were emerging from slavery with the land grants they were promised, while whites received (land grants) four times as large,” Darity said. “The second phase that’s pertinent is nearly 100 years of legal separation … what we colloquially refer to as Jim Crow.”

“We also had a series of white massacres that took place … from the end of the Civil War to the end of the 1940s,” he said.

“(Also), mass incarceration of Black Americans, police executions of unarmed Blacks, ongoing discrimination [in credit opportunities] and discrimination in housing, and unemployment,” Darity said.

This week, we take a by-the-numbers look at the history of systematic discrimination that Darity, Mullen and many other experts argue make reparations necessary — and what that might look like in reality.

(Sources:From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century; The Economics of Reparations;Black Reparations and the Racial Wealth Gap)

$10 – $12 trillion – The amount in federal expenditures Darity and Mullen say will be necessary in reparations to begin to close the racial wealth gap in the United States.

2.6 – The percentage of the nation’s wealth possessed by Black Americans, according to data from the 2016 Survey of Consumer Finances (the most recent data set available).

13 – The percentage of the U.S. population that is Black.

$800,000 – The difference in total net worth between the average Black household in America and the average white household.

400,000 – The acreage of former Confederate-held land promised to newly freed Black people as part of General William T. Sherman’s Special Field Order No. 15 , issued on Jan. 16, 1865 and approved by President Abraham Lincoln. The land was to include “a strip of coastline stretching from Charleston, South Carolina, to the St. John’s River in Florida, including Georgia’s Sea Islands and the mainland thirty miles in from the coast.”

After Lincoln’s assassination, the order was overturned by President Andrew Johnson and the land was returned to the former Confederates who had declared war on the United States.

270 million – The total acreage given to white families as part of the Homestead Act of 1862.

160 acres – The average acreage given to each white family by the federal government, provided they lived on and improved it and paid a small registration fee.

$1 billion – The amount paid by the federal government in the form of a grant to Alaskan natives in 1971, a precedent for reparations for treaty violations and atrocities. The natives also received 44 million acres.

$32 million – The amount paid by the federal government in a 1986 grant to Ottawa Tribe of Michigan under a similar reparations agreement.

$20,000 – The amount paid by the federal government to each of 60,000 identified victims of the U.S. internment program that targeted Japanese Americans during World War II.

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Joe Killian
Joe Killian

Investigative Reporter Joe Killian's work examines government, politics and policy, with a special emphasis on higher education, LGBTQ issues and extremism.