STATEMENT OF DR. ALVEDA KING BEFORE THE CONGRESSIONAL BLACK CAUCUS
September 26, 2008
The concept of reparations for slavery is important and timely. It’s
important, obviously, because of the grave evil that slavery was and the
impact it has had on America. It’s timely because, as my uncle, Dr. Martin
Luther King, Jr. once said, “The time is always right to do what is right.”
“Reparation” means to repair; to make amends. The ultimate purpose and goal
of reparation should be reconciliation. My concern is that any proposal for
reparation be aimed toward reconciliation.
It is important that we have a historical context to the issue of slavery
and understand that the battle against oppression and segregation was not
white versus black, but right versus wrong. There are no separate races
divided by skin color. It was not whites who did this to blacks, it was
Southern racists who even took us into a war where 300,000 whites gave their
lives to end slavery. A political party based on abolition was formed by
whites to free the slaves. If we discuss reparations without discussing the
history there will never be a healing because the root cause of slavery will
not have been identified and redeemed.
Slavery is evil itself. Evil begets evil. In America, slavery and racism
were followed by Jim Crow laws, segregation, lynchings and more racism.
Subsequent solutions such as the crippling welfare system were bandages on
wounds that still need to be healed. All of this oppression resulted from
the foundational evil belief that certain human beings were not fully human.
And this oppression did not just greatly harm the African American, it
poisoned society as a whole.
Oppression is a double-edged sword. It enslaves the victim, but it also
binds the oppressor. In order to maintain the system from which he benefits
materially, the oppressor has to believe a lie. And to maintain his belief
that he is somehow inherently superior, he has to fabricate more and more
lies every time the truth of what he’s doing sears his conscience. The
oppressed die physically, the oppressors die spiritually.
Today, America has problems; deep, deep problems. I wish the answer were as
simple as giving people checks. A few months ago, many of us got rebate
checks in the mail and I think we can all see how much good that did for the
economy. My uncle Martin once spoke of a check marked insufficient funds.
America is once again facing spiritual and moral bankruptcy, even in the
face of the looming economic crisis.
But here, we’re talking about more than dollars and cents. We’re talking
My idea of reparations is that we have to start repairing our nation by
returning to the fundamental truths stated in our Declaration of
Independence – that all people are endowed by their Creator with certain
unalienable rights, and that these include Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of
Happiness. These truths are still self evident. To honor them, we might want
to consider returning prayer to our public squares and keeping “in God we
trust” as our motto.
Slavery and racism violated these truths. Today, another form of evil
continues to violate them and oppress blacks in particular -- abortion.
Abortion, like slavery, is based on the lie that certain human beings aren’t
entitled to basic human rights because they aren’t fully human.
Just as slavery led to a succession of more evils, abortion has led to the
decimation of the African American community. Fully one-fourth of the black
population of the United States has gone missing because abortion took their
lives before they could enjoy liberty or pursue happiness.
Today, our goal here is reparation for the purpose of reconciliation. To
make amends for past evil is vital; to stop current evil is imperative. Let
us begin by recognizing that we – whatever our color, religion, or stage of
life – are one people, one human race, and one nation. It’s when we have
lost sight of this truth that suffering ensues. Yes, let us repair the
wrongs of yesterday, but let us also end the wrongs of today.