Friday, April 21, 2006

"Beyond 40 Acres and a Mule"

Scott Jaschik in Inside higher ed

But the reason members of the Organization of American Historians held an open forum on reparations as part of the group’s annual meeting is that many scholars consider this an issue that won’t go away — and that poses particular challenges to their discipline. So many delicate issues in history and public policy — defining who is black, defining who should feel either guilt or complicity for slavery, the relative evil done to groups like slaves, Holocaust victims or Native Americans — relate in some way or another to the reparations debate. And many were in evidence Thursday.

Participants said that the while the issue isn’t exactly capturing attention from Congressional leaders, it is getting attention in scholarship and in classrooms. “Most white Americans view the idea of reparations as a new or strange idea, but in fact it isn’t new or strange,” said Ray Finkenbine, a professor of history and director of the Black Abolitionist Archives at the University of Detroit Mercy.

Finkenbine traced the history of the reparations idea back to before the United States was a country, when the topic was discussed in colonial circles. The main reason the idea has seemed so “fringe” to white people recently is that, after the Civil War, the reparations movement changed from one with interracial support to one that was taken seriously only by black people. He added that historians today have a responsibility — and one he said that they are starting to fulfill — to fight this “racial amnesia” in white more


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