40 Acres And Reparations

conceptual-photography-oleg-oprisco-640 Acres and a Mule: The Reparations for Slavery Debate
Griffin Coop, Nori Henk, Cory Phillips, Theological Analysis Project STH TT 810, 2001
[Annotations NBP]

INTRODUCTION: Historical Background and Description

Slavery as a legal institution lasted for about 250 years up until the Emancipation Proclamation of 1865 and for another 100 years, African Americans were subjected to Jim Crow laws of which they were not seen as legally equal until 1965. Initially, reparations were to be paid by giving freed slaves 40 acres of land and a mule, but the bill was vetoed by President Andrew Johnson in 1869 after having passed in Congress.  However, the issue was far from being put to rest.

One hundred years later in 1969, the Black Manifesto was published, demanding monetary compensation equaling $3 billion dollars from predominantly white places of worship (Catholic, Protestant and [other] Jews) depending on the predetermined amount that the National Black Economic Development Conference calculated. This request stemmed out of the Civil Rights movement, a fundamentally moral position taken up by religious leaders. Its more radical counterpart, the Black militant and power movement felt that the Civil Rights movement did little to improve the economic situation despite what was given in the legal sense through the Equal Rights Amendments of 1964 and 1965. Initially, there were religious groups and churches fighting for social programs to eradicate poverty and working against forms of discrimination, “By fall of 1968 nearly $50 million had been pledged and some millions expended.” However, these actions resulted in more emergency, short-term help rather than systemic change. And with the election of a more conservative president, President Nixon, the tide in favor of poverty programs and economic development of black community changed and it was no longer a national priority.[1]

As a result, the Manifesto, written by SNCC leader, James Forman, brought to attention the forgotten or tabled issues at hand. However, the form of attack was not directed at the government on behalf of the black churches, but rather a public intrusion on predominantly white places of worship in which the Manifesto was read aloud. Needless to say, the response was immediate and the reparation issue, in this more modern context, became heated and controversial. Coming up with a cost for what were considered lost wages implicated national level guilt as well as suggesting that monetary compensation would begin to make up for historical oppression:

For centuries we have been forced to live as colonized people inside the United States, victimized by the most vicious, racist system in the world. We have helped to build the most industrious country in the world…We are also not aware that the exploitation of colored peoples around the world is aided and abetted by white Christian churches and synagogues…(this) is only a beginning of reparations due us as people who have been exploited and degraded, brutalized, killed and persecuted.

In general, the churches that were asked to raise money for the reparation cause rejected this proposal. Some absolutely denied any right to the suggested money, whereas some believed that money should not be given to the black community directly, but through some federal or state social program. Something was accomplished, however, as the religious community became aware of the grievances held by the black community directed against the church.[2]

The most contemporary manifestation of making reparations has come about in a law suit against the government headed by Alexander Pires, books such as Randall Robinson’s The Debt: What Americans Owe Blacks (2000), and Richard F. America’s Wealth of Races (1990) and Paying the Social Debt: What White America Owes Black America (1993). On an international scale, both the United Nations and Nigeria have formalized a position that the US should respond to this issue, at least with an apology and at most to right the wrong by paying in the form of economic compensation.[3] A growing interest has been fostered at Boston University in the very recent “Great Debate: Should The U.S. Pay Reparations for Slavery” (November 2001), and earlier, in the short-lived running of David Horowitz’s student newspaper ad, “Ten Reasons Why Reparations for Blacks is a Bad Idea for Blacks and Racist Too.”[4]

The new amount that the most contemporary form of reparations is close to $8 billion, (if each descendent of a slave received $150,000) an estimated amount that takes into account what 40 acres and a mule would be worth and lost wages over the 250 year period. The Manifesto and the legal case is built on a precedence of making reparations to the Indians, Holocaust victims, Japanese Internment camp victims, and the Tuskegee Syphilis experiments (the only reparations given to descendents that were not in the direct family.) [5]

Briefly, the issues of contention are how Americans can now be responsible given that slavery ended over 150 years ago, and given that there is no direct connection between the people of today and slaves of multiple generations ago. Another issue at stake is whether monetary compensation can make up for slavery, and whether an apology and/or developing social programs would be more appropriate to the present black situation.[6] Third, making reparations can be seen as a handout, further stigmatizing and perpetuating the victim mentality of the black community. Fourth, there is an economic challenge that is implicit in asking for the money in that it could fundamentally change the economic structure giving African Americans the upper hand in this society.[7] And finally, one might ask, could reparations bring about unintended consequences, such as exacerbating racial tensions and creating or sustaining racial division in the country?[8]

The most critical issue for this paper begs the moral and in some cases, explicit religious response. From a theological perspective, the concrete issue of making reparations for slavery will be analyzed using three main themes: evil/sin, guilt, and redemption.

SECTION I: Theodicy and Original Sin in Process Theology


The Black Manifesto in asking monetary compensation can be summed up in one sentence: “Reparations is a scheme for the rearrangement of wealth to offset past iniquities or correct an imbalance in society.” In this first section of the theological analysis, the iniquity created by slavery will be analyzed in two ways, the structural possibility for slavery and the perpetuation of its sinful effect in today’s society using process theology. This first section will set up the possibility for approving reparations, although it will do so critically, and in the end with some reservations, and will leave it open to further sections in this paper to finalize this approval or entirely reject this possibility.

Theodicy: The Structural Possibility for Slavery          

The institution of slavery unequivocally was an evil institution manipulating Judeo-Christian ideas to justify the practice.       The Black Manifesto cites 29 grievances against religious organizations, specifically against the dogma and practices of the church that made it possible to keep slaves in bondage. The theological ideas of a sovereign God and the eschatological hope were used to justify and maintain the cruel treatment of slaves. Process theology rejects both of these propositions, and offers in its place an explanation for how slavery came into existence and justification for liberation from its historical and present oppression.

Evil and the World

According to Norman Pittenger, evil is “that which holds back, diminishes, or distorts the creative advances of the cosmos toward the shared increase of good.” (74) Evil is both deprivation and privation and stands in stark opposition to potential goodness either through discord or triviality (to choose against the possibility of goodness.) The status of the world exists in clash and in harmony between two principles, creative and destructive principles. The world, thus, is perpetually being made and perpetually being diminished. The perishing principle is a result of existential finitude of the world in that the universe is in constant and eternal process, the things of this world will always be being.

Given the structure of the world there are capacities for intrinsic good and evil, instrumental good and evil, and the power for self-determination. In a world where good and evil is intrinsic and instrumental, the case can be made for the cruelest of structures: “The evils of pain, suffering, injustice, catastrophe, etc. are possible in a world structured to evoke novelty, integration, adventure, and all of the other components of worthwhile experiences.” Slavery can be classified in this way, and justifies a beginning analysis on the veracity of claims made in behalf of reparations. However, before this is done, one should examine how evil is brought into being given the structural possibility for slavery.

God, Codetermination of Power, and Evil

The theodicy question involves not only the existence of evil, but also an existent God who is good, and all-powerful. The possibility for slavery is not a determined reality, but rather brought about through a series of events, choices, and occasions in time. Who is responsible for slavery? All actors are implicated, even God. Although God in his infinite way is working toward creating increased order and goodness, the world can work against this. God can only suggest his initial aim, and in an unlimited way he can persuade for the world to unify itself in the most optimal, intense way for altruistic satisfaction. God cannot ultimately be in control simply because the structure of the world allows God passive power and he cannot prevent evil from occurring. God is held responsible to heighten our reception to his persuasion, and to act in novelty and creativity in the world, but he is both limited in power and is affected or changed by what happens in the world: “Process theodicy projects a deity who is deeply involved in and profoundly affected by the experience of finite creatures.” This has to do with the principle of codetermination of power in the world.

The powers that cause all events to be [The powers that cause to be!] is produced and shared between God and the finite world. In other words, “God is responsible for evil, but not indictable for it” because “finite actualities can fail to conform to the divine aims for it.” Humans are meant to enjoy and to contribute to the world, so they are given freedom in direct relation to the level of intensity and instrumentality to bring about the best possible satisfaction. However, the more freedom that is given to humans the greater the possibility that freedom will be used as increased “intense and instrumental” means to go against God’s initial aim creating more evil and suffering. God also shares in the pain of the world and is affected by the demonic forms of impoverishment, injustice, and violence. In this way, God becomes partially implicated by evil since he is correlated to all that occurs in the world.

God, as can be concluded by this analysis, is not omnipotent, although the case can still be made for his goodness and for his love, since his initial aim is to suggest and make possible increasingly the good in the world. God has and will always have a concern for the world. He shows this concern by acting and disclosing himself in the world and as Pittenger states, God “can make even the wrath of man, as well as whatever other evil there is in the world, ‘turn to his praise.’”Obviously, in the case of slavery, the initial aim of God was rejected in the most intense of ways. […]

Human Sin and Historical Oppression

In order to make the case for reparations, one should establish a direct connection of slavery to the contemporary situation and thus, establish a case for direct and collective responsibility for slavery. Stackhouse, a Christian social ethicist claims, “One of the decisive things we ought to have done is overcome the generalized structured that cast dimensions of poverty and racism in the society, an inheritance from slave days now built into the very fabric of the culture.”

Before one can make that claim that as a society we owe a debt to the black community [White view!], one should articulate clearly [This demand suggest that the claim has not been “articulated” clearly yet. Let the white system tell you how it should be done. Waste much time, energy and money on it. Maybe it will be more clear when written in German or Hebrew. (Jiddish is pidgin German. So is Dutch.)] what was lost, suffered, and deprived in the event of slavery and its perpetual evil throughout history.

Human Nature

The essence and purpose of humankind is “the reality of the decisions of creatures, at every level form the quantum of energy up to the free choice made by man.”  To be human is to choose, to decide, to create, and to be empowered to be fulfilled in the world. It is the choice for self-actualization and self-fulfillment, it is the “spontaneous, creative self-determination in every event.” Thus, to take away these basic rights is an act of sin against a person. In fact original sin, comes from the “situation or state of deprivation or alienation in which men find themselves.” Process theology also asserts that human beings do not start with a level playing field in that original sin affects some individuals more than others. This is different, for example in a reformed theology where all humans are “totally depraved.” Acts that result in terminating the right to determine one’s future and limit his/her freedom to be fulfilled is the kind of oppression that occurred in slavery and as result is present still today.

In fact, clearly the reparation demand is nothing short of claiming the right, in an economic and social way, to fulfill their human purpose. Forman states, that “essentially, the fight for reparation is one of self-determination and the transfer of power.” In this way, sin has an indelible effect through the passing of time. Once that right to freedom to be and to choose had been stripped of the black community, it remained so and perpetually sustained oppression far past the point of the Emancipation Proclamation (1865). The thwarted creative potential has and continues to deprive the black community from accomplishing and contributing to society [Contribution denied, is theft denied!], to its community, and to their personal selves. And far worse, is the prevention of the black community to be united and engaged with the initial aim of the infinite God. The following sections will deal with oppression on the economic and religious level.

Systemic Sin And Economic Oppression

Those involved in the initial demands for reparations held a view that saw slavery as a systemic issue. David Griffin offers a valuable and description of what kind of structure slavery was; it was “the corporate structure of alienation and oppression which has been built up through centuries of human sin.”  The injustice incurred in slavery requires an acknowledgement of societal responsibility for conditioning black people to feel inferior. [First act – behave – inferior, to feel inferior is a bonus.]  However, at the same time, process theology aligns itself with liberation theology to say that the black community is “not necessarily a total victim of (societal) values… individuals can exert an influence back on it and thereby transform it.” [How did getting lynched transform the system? By calling the demonic enslavement ‘sin’, anyone is free to tape their own view of what sin constitutes on slavery. “One” can ignore the systematic and systemic rape of the  bodies and minds  of Africans as prequel to the systematic and systemic murder of as many Africans as “they” could execute. Turn away and continue to help reference to their hollow cause that Africans had no hand in.] Furthermore, Suchocki contends that “cumulative acts of human beings (are) the sources of the demonic.” In process theology, all acts and occasions of interdependent. […]

To be oppressed is to be fundamentally economically oppressed in that slaves had and the present black community has a “lack of adequate material prerequisites for a good life and of the opportunity to determine their own destinies and to make significant contributions to history.” [How can they deny Black people to have contributed to the wealth garnered from slavery?! That IS the story. Were slaves not the “adequate material prerequisites” for white wealth?!] For the proponents of reparations for slavery, it requires a collective change in the system, and an overturn on who remains in control over the system. Early reparation proponents want to see an economic shift of power from white hands to black hands either through a peaceful exchange, and if this did not work, through more violent forms of revolution and guerilla warfare. (Forman, 115)

The attack on systemic evil has not been just toward society proper, but also towards the church in its responsibility for perpetuating black oppression.

The Church’s Responsibility to Systemic and Historical Sin

The direct responsibility for slavery is not just on the conscience of society, but on the church as well. As a sign of repentance, the church was asked to pay reparations long before the government. And as a responsive community, given the process structure, the church can continue to perpetuate racial divides or ameliorate the situation by restoring freedom, power and creative control in and through society. Even in silence the church stands condemned in a way that Forman writes so clearly, “Basically the Black Manifesto is an historical reminder to the white religious establishment…and highlights the contradictions between words and deeds…(which) has been to form an unholy alliance with a worldwide system of oppression.” There ought to be a religious assessment of its responsibility to the systemic perpetuation of evil and then, a plausible solution to help the plight of the present black situation.

Critiques and Conclusion of Section I

There are a few points of critique that should be made in light of the prior discussion to establish the relationship between accepting or rejecting reparations on a theological basis in the following two sections. The discussion here poses several questions through two aims of inquiry, how the reparation cause is ill-fit to a process theology and how process theology fails to serve reparation aims.

The first critique is on the God and theodicy issue. Given God’s persuasive nature, why do so many remain un-persuaded?       This empirical question again tests the goodness of God as well as his adequacy. Second, process theology relies heavily on aesthetic qualities of possibility, that the moral question posed here may not be as important. The world must be given in this way to offer the possibility for God’s involvement in the world, but does it do so in a way that makes God more concerned with his initial aim, then what is really happening in the world?

Third, in the possibility for change, who and what is given the authority to make things happen, and in the same sense what is the security in buying into the process theology. Next, do the means justify the ends, and will the means accomplish the process goal of fulfillment and creative potentiality? Fifth, since in process theology emphasis is given to the individual not the institution, can an institution effectively repent given this emphasis? Sixth, revolutionary sentiments may or may not be in line with process theology since violence would be a form of discord. [What violence?! Slavery was violent, racism is violent.]

Lastly, one should consider unintended consequences: Could reparations lead to even greater racist sentiments, creating more divisions in society, and incur unhelpful anger on the side of the white community? [Whites have “unhelpful anger”? What is that? A code for more brutal violence? The intended consequence would be to fear whites getting even more violent when they have to give back the wealth. And only after that should we care for them to repent. Maybe.] Furthermore, in this same line of thought, whose to say that reparations is what the average black man and woman desires? [This is a non-argument. Dead jhws are still getting paid for their hollow cause. So, whomever does not want any money, can rest assured that the money will go to the Black community. Get our own educational system started.] Could it be just the agenda of black leaders only? And if this is true, can the goal of reparations really be brought about if the black community is not willing to take advantage of their newly achieved freedom? These seven points of contention speak to the inadequacy of and disparity between a perfect fit of analysis and subject of analysis. [These seven points speak of ignorance. Reparations do not equal freedom. The money still belongs to those who print it. There is no call for a perfect fit. We need to assign the first group to get reparations. And move from there. We are wasting daylight here.]

[…] The following two sections will proffer an answer using the theological concepts of guilt and redemption while taking into consideration the discussion and points of critiques developed in Section I.

Part -> 2


5 comments on “40 Acres And Reparations

  1. […] Source: 40 Acres And Reparations […]

  2. Here in New Zealand, I have observed (and somewhat participated) in land reparations to the Maori. What’s mainly at issue is illegal land seizures – and a bit of illegal imprisonment and torture. It’s by no means a fair or comprehensive process, but I think it’s a good general model for approaching reparations.

  3. I had not finished reading this article, but now that I did I am annoyed. I am still to read part 2, but as I see it now, it will not make it onto TMB. Part 1 is quite enough. We need also seem to need a fake Nuremberg trial, but whom to put up to stand accused? Until then, we need to build a nation wherever we are, or we will be left nowhere.

  4. Okay, nice tantrum. Moving on. Part 2 will be up 2d or 2m.

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