Letter: Reparation talk is hardly a charade
As a son of Jewish refugees who received reparations from Germany after World War II, I’d like to comment on Mr. Mazzuca’s editorial about reparations related to slavery. My parents received compensation, not for the deaths of nearly a third of our immediate family; rather, because they were unable to complete their education, continue their careers, maintain economic stability, and grow families in their countries of choice. Obviously, the money was a minor reward for our family’s losses, but it did prove that the post-World War II German government (led by anti-Nazi Conrad Adenauer) recognized the terrible wrongs that had been done and the country’s responsibility for the atrocities.
America grew rich in the 19th century, due largely to the hard work of slaves. By the 1850s America produced more cotton than any other nation, cultivated and harvested by slaves. All sections of our country were invested in the slave trade and benefited from it. New England’s ships transported the slaves, the mid-Atlantic states’ bankers provided the capital to subsidize the slave trade, and the southern states ran the plantations. It is unimportant that slavery existed elsewhere in the world. The brutality of our slavery was unconscionable in a land founded on the premise that “all men are created equal.”
The Civil War did not end the abuses of slavery. Most blacks were prevented from leaving the South (thousands of lynchings and the KKK saw to that) and were forced to continue working in the fields until the 1920s. Even after that, we still accepted the brutality of Jim Crow practices in the South, and legal segregation in the North. After World War II, Levittown, one of the largest suburban developments in New York, stipulated that no blacks could buy a home and that owners could not sell their homes to a person of color. Until the 1960s, it was a crime for people of different races to marry in several states, just one more indignity heaped upon black citizens of this country.
We can never adequately fund reparations for these past sins, but we need to accept the idea that we need to accelerate opportunities for current and future generations of people who were brought to this country against their will but were foundational in the growth of the United States of America. Investment at a higher level in housing, employment opportunities, pre-k through college education, and affordable health care would be a good start.
“Those who enable historical amnesia are accessories to the crimes against humanity” — Frank Rich, New York Times Book Review, July 21, 2019.
Pittsburgh and summer resident of Arrowhead