Volume 5, Number 14 March 2, 2002
The Reparations "Dream Team" or I had a dream too
by Dr. Ridgely Abdul Mu’min Muhammad
The need for guidance will become even more crucial as the US begins to play this "reparations" game. The US never responded to the Honorable Elijah Muhammad’s request for land as the center of a genuine reparations package. Now slick lawyers areletting the Federal government off the hook by focusing on corporations from whom only a monetary reward can be garnered for a very limited clientele. Please read USA Today’s February 21st front page article "Activists challenge corporations that they say are tied to slavery" and then review my article and documentary "Snake in the reparations’ grass".
The inspiration for this documentary came from a dream that I had on December 28, 1998 on the eve of the day that J.L. Chestnut and Al Pires were to meet with 600 or more Black farmers in Albany, Ga. to discuss the Consent Decree. The farmers had read this proposed Consent Decree on November 5, 1998 and some were organizing to protest its contents. So, unlike Dr. Martin Luther King’s "dream", mine was about snakes.
On the next day, my instincts told me to shut my mouth and open my video camera lens. I recorded that session and many other public sessions like this first one over a period of three years. Indeed, "snakes" proved to be the most subtle characters in the Black farmers’ attempt at receiving reparations.
Now, according to the USA Today’s article, "the reparations team has been extraordinarily secretive" up until now. And when you read the list of members, one may understand why. Blacks must now determine who this "Dream Team" works for. There is a difference between the wisdom of "activists" infiltrated by "snakes " seeking gold and the wisdom of one guided by God such as Minister Louis Farrakhan seeking freedom "in deed".
This USA Today article on reparations covered 2 full pages with subheadings like: "Proving liability for events so far in the past could be tough", "Reparations activist; ‘We’re still living with the vestiges of slavery’, "Insurance firms issued slave policies", "Several media companies own newspapers that were essential to slave economy", "FleetBoston: Traced to slave-trading merchant", "Brown Bros.: Loan gave planters cash to buy slaves", "Lehman Bros.: 1 brother owned 7 slaves in 1860", "Railroads: Slave ‘formed the backbone of the South’s railway labor force’", and "WestPoint Stevens: Textile firm linked to rough ‘Negro cloth’ slaves had to wear."
The idea of reparations is not new, many other groups and leaders before this "Reparations’ Dream Team" was established fought for reparations including the Honorable Marcus Garvey, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X, Dr. Brock, Minister Silas Muhammad, N’COBRA, etc. to name a few. According to the article,
"Successive generations of African-Americans, starting with slaves freed in 1865, have failed to persuade Congress to apologize and make restitution for slavery. Attempts by descendants of slaves to sue the federal government for damages have been dismissed."
The old movement for reparations goes back to the ex-slaves desire for land. Now the modern descendants of these slaves are now suing for "cash", not land. And since modern Blacks no longer understand the value of land, the American government may lend an ear to that sector that wants a cash settlement instead of land.
In 1995 a $100 million reparations case called Cato v. the United States was filed in the U.S. Appeals Court in San Francisco. However the court could not find "...a legal basis for it. The panel said descendants of slaves must go to Congress, not the courts, to get redress for crimes against their ancestors."
However, when Blacks have petitioned Congress, it "... has stifled reparations legislation sponsored each year since 1989 by Rep. John Conyers, Jr., D-Mich." Supposedly, the new strategy of this "Dream Team" is to attack companies and force them to seek redress from the government.
Therefore, the movement for reparations has been "subtly" steered from the government into the private sector which requires an even more precise proof of damages, quantification of the damages and who should be paid the reward for those damages. The companies are not submitting to the evidence of past profiteering by saying that "...the current company isn’t liable for what happened before the Civil War." And furthermore, "...slaves and their masters are dead. Company records, though sometimes damning, are seldom complete. Damages may be impossible to calculate. Most important, no company accused of profiting from slavery was breaking U.S. law at the time; Slavery was not a crime."
However, if slavery was not considered a crime, then the responsibility goes back to the government for authorizing this "crime against humanity". And of course this is precisely why America did not want to participate in the World Conference Against Racism held in South Africa in the summer of 2001. If slavery and the slave trade could be labeled "crimes against humanity" and some western governments apologize, then these same governments that participated and benefited from slavery could be held liable.
So the "Dream Team" has decided to go after the companies. However, the USA Today article goes on to say, "..before broadening a tort case to a class-action lawsuit, reparations advocates must find the descendant of a slave damaged by one of the defendants. Then they must decide who qualifies as a slave descendant and who, in essence, is black."
Now this language is like "deja vue" for those who saw what happened to the Black farmers in the class action lawsuit against the USDA. When accepted into the class, each Black farmer had to find a "similarly situated white farmer" who had gotten the loans that he was denied. He had to be very specific as to the "similarity" between himself and that white farmer.
Class counsel, Alexander Pires who is on this "Dream Team", told Judge Friedman in 1998 that he would provide each "similarly situated white farmer" for each of the Black farmers in the lawsuit. This would have been easy for him to do since he had access to USDA records that the farmers did not have. Pires did not do what he told the judge and subsequently 40% of those who were accepted into the class were denied. And now, Pires is "rewarded" by being at the right place and the right time to have a major influence in another attempt at "reparations".
Now, how is the court to decide "who qualifies as a slave descendant"? Blacks in America have mixed with every ethnic identity on the planet. One may only be related to a slave on one side of the family. So what does that one get, 50% of the individual cash settlements? What will one bring as proof of their "blackness", an old Bible or a genealogical chart? How about having each applicant give some blood so that their DNA can be traced back to a slave ancestor? When the government gets all of these DNA samples, what might they do with that information? Oh, well, one can only speculate.(smile)
To top things off, the lawyers and activists on this "Reparations Dream Team" say "...their work is likely to be done pro bono. By not charging, they hope to guard against accusations they’re looking to get rich by conducting corporate shakedowns."
Now, when Al Pires and his band of lawyers went around the country pumping their Consent Decree, they always told the farmers that "you all don’t have to pay us a dime." Well the farmers did not pay Al Pires, but the farmers did not get paid themselves. Al Pires gave Judge Friedman a bill for $38 million. Evidently, Mr. Pires was working for the government all the time, because "he who pays the fiddler, calls the tune."
The Black farmers did not send Al Pires to court to get $50,000 worth of toilet paper with big holes for the government to slip through. He was sent to protect the Black farmers land. Instead Black farmers are still being foreclosed on and the media has looked the other way.
Who can we trust? In September of 2001 I attended the Congressional Black Caucus Weekend and distributed a number of the "Snake in the Reparations’ Grass" video tapes. I gave a tape to each Black member of the House Agricultural Committee. There was a forum on reparations which we attended. At the end of that forum I gave a number of tapes to the panelists including Dr. Charles Ogletree trying to warn them about Al Pires. Since Dr. Ogletree was responsible for selecting members to this "Dream Team", we thought that he should be warned.
However, we found out at the "4th National Black Land Loss Conference" held in Atlanta in February of this year that Dr. Ogletree had read the Pigford v. Glickman consent decree before we, the Black farmers, got a copy. Judge Friedman used Dr. Ogletree’s endorsement of the document as one of his reasons for accepting it.
The question now remains, did Dr. Ogletree approve the document because he trusted Al Pires or did he know so little about agriculture that he could not interpret the language? In any case, this causes great concern as to his ability to properly direct the development of strategy to achieve real reparations for Black folk.
Now that the "snakes" are out of the woods and in the "reparations grass", we might need a snake charmer or a good fat "stick" of truth to straighten them out. Before 40 million Black people get bitten by the same "snake" that bit the Black farmers, they had better "ask somebody".
There are some that may argue that Dr. Ogletree and his "Dream Team" may not speak for them or their organizations. However, when you are petitioning someone who has the power to accept or reject your petition, that person or body determines who they will listen too, not you. "Massa" always chose which set of slaves were his favorites and whom he would bestow his favors upon. The dreams of the "house slaves" were not always in line with the "field slaves", but guess whose dreams had the most weight with "massa"?