What Price Slavery? What Price Freedom?

Howard Dodson


        The enslavement of African peoples established the African presence in the United 

States as well as the formative development of the American national economy. While the 

first enslaved Africans arrived in the continental limits of today's U.S.A. in 1526, 

slavery developed as a critical aspect of Euro-American colonial economies in North 

America during the 17th century. Of the 10-12 million Africans that survived the 

transatlantic slave trade to the Americas, only some 500,000 settled in the British North 

American colonies. By 1860, however, the half-million involuntary immigrants had grown to 

nearly 4 million Africans in bondage. Most of this growth occurred after the abolition of 

the slave trade to the U.S. in 1807. The population growth paralleled the rise of the 

slave-based cotton plantation economy in the American South, the foundation of the 

ante-bellum American national economy.

        Efforts to calculate the value of this enslaved African labor in the United States

 as well as the social costs of racism and social oppression during and after slavery 

have been used to define and support black Americans' reparations claims. While debates 

about African Americans' rights to reparations as compensation for the enslavement and racial

discrimination they have endured have been constant themes in African American history, such

claims - indeed demands - have escalated over the last three decades. The purpose of this

paper is to review the nature of some of the most recent demands and to suggest an 

alternative strategy for establishing the basis for black reparation's claims and making 

appropriate compensation to the African American community.

        This paper begins with the understanding that the enslavement of African peoples

was a global phenomenon impacting African peoples on the African continent as well as 

throughout the Americas. As such, all African people who were victimized by the slave 

trade and slavery are entitled to compensatory reparations. In focusing on the enslaved 

African experience in the United States, my intent is neither to deny the claims of other

 descendants of enslaved African peoples nor to separate the African American experience 

from the plight of other African peoples. Rather, my intent is to explore certain 

assumptions and principles related to African Americans in hopes that they might serve as

a model or framework for documenting and making similar claims throughout the Atlantic 

world. In interrogating the U.S. particularly, it is my hope that I will shed some light 

on the global possibilities.

        The emergence and development of modern reparations movements among black Americans have

undoubtedly been inspired in no small measure by the successful reparations struggles 

waged by other oppressed groups in American and world society since 1945. Foremost among

these have been the widely publicized reparations payments made to individual Jews and 

the State of Israel over the last half-century in compensation for the exigencies of the

holocaust in Nazi Germany. Germany and Austria have paid over one billion dollars to 

individuals and several billion to Israel to date. Another 600 million was slated for 

payment by 2000. This is independent of the holocaust-inspired aid payments made by the 

United States and other European powers annually. Still other reparations claims have 

been successfully pursued to gain compensation for lost or confiscated property, including

gold deposited in European banks.

        Japanese-Americans who were rounded up and imprisoned after Pearl Harbor recently

were awarded reparation payments. The United States paid an initial $20,000 per person, 

but in 1992, the U.S. Office of Reparations agreed to increase the amounts to the Nisei 

or their descendants beyond the original $1.25 billion payment.

        The U.S. Government has also made reparations payments to Native Americans who 

have suffered various injustices over the years. Native Americans of Alaska were awarded 

one billion dollars and 4.4 million acres of land. The Sioux of South Dakota received $105 

million, the Klamaths of Oregon, $81 million, the Ottawas of Michigan, $23 million, The 

Chippawas of Wisconsin, $31 million, and the Florida descendants of the Seminole holocaust, 

$12.3 million. These successful reparations cases have established the fact that the U.S. 

government recognizes the principle of reparations as a means of making amends for past 

wrongful deeds.

        Black Americans' interest in pursuing reparations claims as compensation for the  

crimes associated with the capture and enslavement of their ancestors and the economic 

consequences of racism has escalated over the last thirty years. The Republic of New Africa 

sought $400 billion in reparations as part of its effort to establish an independent black 

republic in five southern states. Founded in Detroit in 1968, the RNA, under the leadership 

of  Imari Obadele, has been a consistent proponent of reparations in the United States.

         James Foreman's Black Manifesto of 1969 included a modest $5 billion reparations 

demand from white Christian churches and Jewish synagogues. In recent years, the 

International Tribunal on Reparations for African Peoples in the U.S. held its tenth 

gathering in Philadelphia in 1991. The Los Angeles-based Cosmopolitan Brotherhood 

Association has called for the indemnification of descendants of enslaved Africans for 

their enslavement. U.S. Representative John Conyers of Michigan has drafted a reparation 

bill for the U.S. House of Representatives, and the National Coalition of Black Reparations 

Associations (N'COBRA) has been established to coordinate initiatives and strategies.

        As most of you know, African people's demand for Reparations rests on three basic 


           1.	That the mass kidnapping, sale and enslavement of Africans from the 16th

                through the 19th centuries was one of the most wicked criminal enterprises in

                recorded human history,

           2.	That no adequate compensation has ever been paid by the perpetrators or their

                descendants to the sufferers and their descendants, and

           3.	That the consequences of the crime continue to enrich the descendants of

                perpetrators and impoverish and under-develop Africa, Africans and

                descendants of Africans in the Diaspora.

        Arguments in support of African peoples' claims for reparations have rested on moral, 

cultural, legal and economic grounds. I believe that the assertion that the enslavement of 

African peoples and its consequences constitute a crime against humanity must rest on solid 

legal foundations. Lord Anthony Gilford, British Queens Counsel and a Jamaican 

Attorney-at-Law, maintains that international law recognizes that those who commit crimes 

against humanity must make reparation. In a paper presented to the First Pan-African Congress 

on Reparations held on April 27-29, 1993 in Abuja, Nigeria, Lord Gifford noted that the 

Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal defined crimes against humanity thusly:

           Murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation and

           other inhumane acts committed against any civilian

           population... whether or not in violation of the domestic

           law of the country where perpetrated.

        This charter also included within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal, the "violation 

of the laws and customs of war including murder, ill-treatment or deportation to slave labor

 or any other purpose of civilian population of, or, in occupied territory..."

        Scholarship on slavery, African history and African diasporan history clearly 

documents the fact that the capture and enslavement of Africans as part of the transatlantic 

slave trade was in violation of the principles articulated in this and other international 


        International law has also recognized that those who commit crimes against humanity

must make reparations. According to the Permanent Court of International Justice (predecessor 

of the International Court of Justice),

           reparation must, as far as possible, wipe out all the consequences

           (my emphasis) of the illegal act and re-establish the situation

           which would, in all probability, have existed if the act had not

           been committed. Restitution in kind or, if this is not possible,

           payment of a sum corresponding to the value which a restitution

           in kind would bear;

The court defined reparations as "the award, if need be, of damages for loss in kind or  

payment in place of it."  In determining the amount of compensation due for an act contrary

to international law, these principles should guide the determination.

        Numerous cases in international law can be cited to demonstrate that peoples throughout the

world have been compensated for crimes against humanity far less heinous and enduring than

the centuries-long enslavement of African peoples. To date, however, African peoples just 

claims have not been adequately compensated.


        I have entitled this presentation, "What Price Slavery? What Price Freedom?" In 

the remaining time that has been allotted to me, I wish to focus my remarks on the economic 

consequences of slavery and racial discrimination in the United States and suggest a 

framework for thinking about an appropriate approach to group compensation. I call this 

proposed compensation plan "a generational approach to African American freedom."

Black Equity In The U.S. Slave Industry

        In a paper published two decades ago in the Review of Black Political Economy, 

Jim Marketti, an economist sought to calculate the income appropriated from blacks during

 slavery. Using the tools of capital theory and historical data on the slave population and

 the prices paid for slaves over the period of slavery in the United States, Marketti 

concluded that the then present day value of unpaid black equity in the U.S. slavery 

industry reached between $448 billion and $995 billion. This estimate did not include the

contribution of blacks as labor and capital to the development of the United States. 

Marketti argues that the $448-$995 billion in black equity should be seen as the baseline 

amount of exploited income that was deposited in the nation's social bank

account where it has been and should continue to draw interest until it is repatriated. 

What price slavery? A minimum of $448 to $995 billion plus interest compounded until 

reparations are paid!!  Julian Simon's and Larry Neal's estimates ranged from $96.3 

billion to $9.7 trillion!

        The economic basis of reparations to African Americans do not end there, however. 

The consequences of slavery - racial discrimination in all its variant forms: political, 

economic, social, psychological and cultural - are also bases for exacting reparations, 

since it continues to enrich the perpetrators at the expense of the sufferers of racial 

oppression and exploitation in the Americas as well as Africa. Calculations of the economic 

consequences of racial discrimination must be carried out in at least four broad areas:

           1)   The lower pay that blacks performing the identical work of whites have been

                paid over the years.

           2)   The exclusion of blacks from jobs for which they were qualified.


           3)   The exclusion of blacks from industries for which they were qualified and

                capable of working(?).


           4)   The exclusion of blacks from jobs and industries because they were excluded

                from access to the education needed to qualify for the job.

Richard America, in a recent study set the white benefits from labor market discrimination 

against blacks from 1929 to 1969 to be $689 billion in 1972, prices which when adjusted for 

inflation in 1983 came to $16.3 trillion. Again, let me remind you that these are modest 

estimates of the black equity accumulated in post-emancipation American society for a brief 

period (40 years) of the more than 130 years since the abolition of slavery in the United 

States. Recognizing the existence of a black American "social bank account" in the American 

national economy of a minimum of $16 trillion is certainly warranted based on these two sets 

of calculations. This black equity fund is sufficient to establish an economic basis for 

beginning to compensate African American sufferers and their descendants for their capture, 

enslavement and exploitation and the racial discrimination they have endured as a consequence 

of slavery.

Towards a Generational Approach to Reparations

        Most proposals for compensatory reparations have been expressed in terms of cash 

payments to individuals, political states or groups of peoples within nation states. Making 

direct cash payments to individuals who were parties to the litigation producing the 

reparations settlement has been a traditional approach to making restitution for past 

wrongs. Some reparations claims have also been settled through one-time awards of 

land/property. I would like to propose a slight variation on this approach, believing as I 

do that the reparations must be made at a group level and that it should produce a 

quantifiable restitution to the group over time. This is in keeping with the notion that 

reparation must wipe out the consequences of the illegal act and re-establish the situation 

which would have existed if the act had not been committed. My proposal is that African

Americans be the beneficiaries of the "social bank account" in the U.S. economy that was 

generated by their unrequited labor during slavery and by racial discrimination afterwards

For the next forty years (one year for each ten years of slavery and economic underdevelopment),

funds accumulated in this social bank account should be used to support the sustained 

restitution and development of a full generation of Americans in several key areas. Foremost 

among these is investment in the development of the next generation of African American 

children, but the funds should be allocated to: 

     1)   Insure that every African American child born in the next 40 years will be guaranteed

          food, clothing and shelter and access to publicly supported education through the

          equivalent of the BA. This is simply a basic commitment to invest in securing the

          future health and social development of the next generation - the first generation of

          African Americans of the new millennium.

     2)   Insure that every African American interested in creating a business over the next 40

          years will have access to a venture capital fund to help finance the development of the

          new businesses.

     3)   Insure that over the next 40 years, every African American seeking to own a home

          will have access to a home ownership loan fund to acquire residential property.

     4)   Invest in the expansion of the educational system especially urban school systems and

          Hack's to insure that the American educational system is capable of accommodating

          these expanded African American educational enrollments.

Let me remind you that this is not and should not be perceived as a program of

government of welfare or largess. The value of the nation's social bank account is in fact

"black equity" in the American national economy, a product of the labor and economic

exploitation of black Americans. The various "black equity funds" to be established in

this social bank account derive from black labor and economic presence. Charges against

these funds for the purposes described above are charges against black Americans'

historic accumulation of capital in the American economy.



What Price Slavery? What Price Freedom?

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Main, Brian G.M., "Toward the Measurement of Historic Debts," The Review of Black

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Marketti, Jim, "Black Equity in the Slave Industry," The Review of Black Political

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Simon, Julian and Larry Neal, "A Calculation of the Black Reparations Bill" The

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