February 2, 2010

Black History Month, Part 1: Reparations

Alright, don't get your laced-britches in a knot, the State of the Union analysis is still in the works. Normally I can go topic by topic and highlight a few things that were said specifically - but with this guy, it is line by line! I don't want to short-shrift the Address, so be patient!

Now, on to more pressing matters. Today begins a 28 day journey into Black History Month. This is a month where racism is cherished and even demanded. How else am I to view a month that is dedicated to a people and the defining attribute (hence the title of the month) is based on skin color?! If we had a white history month, the ACLU would throw a tantrum. Al Sharpton would be beating down the doors of the network news outlets so he could get on TV. And, Jessie Jackson would still go on speaking his racial hate with a diction that rivals Sloth from the Goonies. Therefore, to begin our celebration of Black History Month, let's tackle some issues of the so-called "African-American community."

One of most absurd ideas to come along in this age of political correctness is the idea of paying reparations to African-American families in order to compensate them for losses incurred as a result of the institution of slavery. Aside from the fact that there is not one African-American alive today that lived under the institution of slavery, the truth is, the federal Government has spent more in money and lives directly related to the African-American population, than any other ethnic group.

Though many may argue that the American Civil War was not fought over slavery, the roots of the war were indeed embedded over the slavery question. Almost every major bill introduced in Congress in the years leading up to the Civil War related in some way to slavery. The earliest law regarding this issue was found in the Constitution, ratified In 1789. The Constitution was ratified with a provision called the 3/5ths Slave Act that allowed for determination of the population of slave holding states to be modified in the following manner. For every 5 slaves that existed in the pro-slavery states, the number of the population of the state was to be increased by 3 persons during Census years. This allowed for additional Southern Representatives to be added to Congress.

This compromise was added in order to pacify the Southern states who felt that due to the Northern States having greater populations, they would in-turn dominate the Congress and could by virtue of their superior number of representatives make slavery an outlawed institution.

Further laws included the Kansas-Nebraska Act (A disastrous piece of legislation), The Missouri Compromise and other laws, all designed to placate the southern states. Yet each law that was passed only seemed to require further legislation in order to bring the Southern states satisfaction. Thus, the split in the Democratic party that occurred in 1859 along geographical lines largely as a result of the issue of slavery, allowed Lincoln to win the Presidency and set the stage for secession.

When the Civil War began, Lincoln saw the war as necessary to reunite the nation. Yet by September of 1862, Lincoln saw the aims of the war as expanding and changing. Since slavery was the issue that led to the War, the slavery issue must be ultimately addressed. This led to the Emancipation Proclamation. This changed the entire scope of the war not only to that of re-uniting the nation, but also ending the evil institution of slavery. What then were the costs incurred to end slavery?

First, there was the cost in human lives. The Union army lost 330,000 dead and an additional 285,000 were wounded. All of the casualties incurred by the United States in every other war fought in our 200+ years of history, when added together, do not equate to the cost incurred by the our nation in lives to end slavery.

In addition, it cost the federal Government approximately 2.5 million dollars a day in 1860’s dollars ($59,222,494/day in today's dollars) to prosecute the war. The interest on the foreign debt incurred during the war was still being paid into Grant’s administration in the 1870’s.

The Freedman’s Bureau was established in 1866 to provide free education and medical care to former slaves and to arbitrate disputes between whites and blacks. Approximately 16,000,000 dollars a year were spent to provide for transition of former slaves into white society (at a time when the average monthly salary for unskilled labor was $30.00 a month, this was a significant sum of money). In addition, millions of dollars were spent to provide occupation forces to enforce the 13th , 14th and 15thAmendments that freed slaves and provided them the right to vote. Through the process of reconstruction, many black families were granted 40-acre plots of ground by the Federal Government to allow them to farm and become self-sufficient.

By the 1960’s, the government was spending millions to provide for desegregation and to fund Johnson’s (not so) Great Society. These expenditures were directed largely toward the African-American population.

In more recent legislature, the Government has a minority preference policy for contract bidding. Minority owned companies are granted preference when it comes to awarding government contracts especially in the construction field. Thus, the government may award contracts to less qualified companies, not based on the low bid, or the level of experience, but whether they have minority ownership and a specific percentage of minority employees.  Most colleges and public employers today have affirmative action policies that provide preference toward minorities regardless of qualifications when it comes to admission to the schools and/or hiring practices.

The issue goes far beyond the costs involved. By 1865, the Union army had organized some 160 Black regiments. Several of these regiments fought with great distinction. Along with the famous 54thMassachusetts Regiment in it’s assault on Battery Wagner on July 18,1863, several other regiments incurred huge losses in their zeal to fight for freedom. These included 292 Soldiers at Fort Pillow in which all but 62 were killed by forces under Nathan Bedford Forrest (founder of the KKK) on April 12, 1864 in a controversial battle later described as a massacre. The Black regiments of Grant’s 18th Corps charged Lee’s positions at New Market Heights on September 29th, 1864 and also suffered tremendous casualties.

The interesting thing about these regiments in that they were only paid $10.00 per-month in comparison to the $13.00 per-month paid to white regiments. The government then deducted three dollars from the pay of black regiments for clothing. As a result of the pay disparity, many black soldiers protested by refusing to accept pay at all for their services. They never asked for one dollar from the Government in return for their sacrifice and service. They only asked for the same opportunities as whites. 1

After the War, many black soldiers suffered the indignity of being denied their pensions. Only 75% of the Black veterans were granted pensions while almost 96% of White veterans were granted pensions.2

During the Indian Wars, several black regiments served on the frontier. Two of the most famous served on into the Spanish-American War. These were the 9th and 10th Regiments. These regiments served with distinction and not one of the veterans of these regiments asked for reparations for their families. They received the standard pensions paid to their white brethren.

In addition to pensions, many blacks were lynched during the Post Civil War years and into the Jim Crow era. None asked any more from their Government than equal opportunity to vote and function in society. They asked for the right to be educated and to earn a decent living. They had to overcome lynching, prejudice and ill treatment in their attempts to gain equal access to society.

Much of this struggle was successful. In the Post War years, with the help of the Freedmans' Bureau, several Black Colleges were established. Tuskegee University in Alabama became one of the most famous. As of today, there exists more than 100 Colleges that has their roots in Post War Black education.

Today, there has been a marked shift in the mentality of black leaders in contrast to those that existed in the Post Civil War years. Those of the Post War years took pride in the sacrifices they had made for freedom. They saw their struggle not requiring, nor demanding to be coddled by the Federal Government, nor spoiled by living off of Government handouts, but rather they struggled to prove that they could be as successful as Whites in society. Not only did they accomplish this in the extraordinary sacrifices of the Black soldiers on the battlefield, whose heroism in the face of prejudice proved that they could fight to the equal of Whites. This was also proven by the Black veteran’s organizations that successfully petitioned the Government for the right to vote. It was also proven by the willingness to protest ill treatment by such heroes as Rosa Parks, and by the senseless slaying of such Black leaders as M. L. King, all of whom would never have countenanced Government handouts, but only the chance to be viewed equally.

In the end, this sense of pride and self-accomplishment in the face of extreme odds has been largely negated by leaders demanding free money and land from the Government due to some contrived injustice to them that dates back over 130-years, when not one of them has had to live under the bonds of slavery that their forebears fought to overcome. It is as if they are spitting on the graves of those who gave their lives to instill freedom and pride in their African-American brethren.

1 The last surviving Black Veteran of the Civil War was Joseph Clovese who died in 1951.

2 Donald R. Shaffer. After the Glory: The Struggles of Black Civil War Veterans. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2004, page 119.

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