7 Powerful Takeaways from Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Testimony to Congress about Reparations

Reparations are emerging as a front-and-center debate and likely to be a hot topic during the 2020 election.

Black leaders including actor Danny Glover have been outspoken about the need for the U.S. government to pay African Americans reparations for the slave labor of their ancestors.

The conversation was ignited by a stirring essay Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote for The Atlantic, “The Case for Reparations,” in 2014.

On Wednesday, Coates made the case in person in front of Congress. You can [and should] read his complete testimony, courtesy of The New York Times. Presented below are seven especially powerful statements Coates made during his testimony:

It’s impossible to imagine America without the inheritance of slavery.

…for a century after the Civil War, black people were subjected to a relentless campaign of terror, a campaign that extended well into the lifetime of Majority Leader McConnell.

We grant that Mr. McConnell was not alive for Appomattox. But he was alive for the electrocution of George Stinney. He was alive for the blinding of Isaac Woodard. He was alive to witness kleptocracy in his native Alabama and a regime premised on electoral theft.

…there is, of course, the shame of this land of the free boasting the largest prison population on the planet, of which the descendants of the enslaved make up the largest share.

The matter of reparations is one of making amends and direct redress…

… if Thomas Jefferson matters, so does Sally Hemings. That if D-Day matters, so does Black Wall Street. That if Valley Forge matters, so does Fort Pillow.

…the question really is not whether we’ll be tied to the somethings of our past, but whether we are courageous enough to be tied to the whole of them.





Freedom vs. Emancipation: The Celebration of Juneteenth

Although President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863, declaring all slaves as legally free, it actually took years before the news traveled to all parts of the country, writes Henry Lous Gates, Jr. in his piece What Is Juneteenth?. It was also harder to enforce the Executive Order in rebellious Southern states like Texas where there were few Union troops. As a result, African American slaves were still working on plantations as late as 1865, while 250,000 people were still enslaved in Texas.

However, on June 19, 1865, Union soldiers, led by Gen. Gordon Granger, traveled to Galveston, Texas, to announce that the Civil War had ended and all enslaved people were free. Granger issued the call with “General Order No. 3,” which he read to the people of Texas. It read as follows:

The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.

Newly freed slaves rejoiced in the streets following the announcement of the order. In 1866, freedman organized the first June 19, or Juneteenth, celebrations. Today, it is observed in 45 states as a holiday that celebrates freedom. To commemorate the holiday, people engage in customary activities such as barbecuing, rodeos, fishing, prayer services, and baseball games. The day also serves as a time for reflection and an opportunity for Americans to trace their family roots.

For more information about Juneteenth visit www.juneteenth.com and What Is Juneteenth? by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Editor’s Note: This article originally published on June 19, 2017.