Rochdale Village rallies for federal slave reparations

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More than 50 people from the Rochdale Village area spent their Father’s Day learning about the reparations movement, which is demanding restitution from the federal government and U.S. corporations for the descendants of African slaves.

The Rochdale Village chapter of the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America hosted an information rally Sunday afternoon, featuring speeches by Gilda Sherrod-Ali, a member of the National Conference of Black Lawyers, and Elombre Brath, host of the radio show Afrikaleidoscope. Discussions were held on the legal basis for reparation lawsuits and the Millions for Reparations March on Washington, D.C., planned for Aug. 17.

The City Council’s Governmental Operations Committee was scheduled to hold hearings on reparations Wednesday.

At the heart of the reparations movement lies the legacy left by the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and the realization that America was built on the backs of the slaves, said Father Herman Ferguson, co-chairman of the Rochdale Village chapter of N’Cobra.

“They needed our skills, our labor, our talents, to create America and South America,” Ferguson said. “Now their day of reckoning has come.”

The reparations movement has gained momentum since the United Nations held its conference against racism in Durban, South Africa last year. At the conference, the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, the system that primarily supplied America and Europe with its slaves, was declared a crime against humanity, Ferguson said.

“It was the worst crime that has ever been committed against a people in the history of mankind,” he said.

Although there are no specific details on how many Africans died during slavery, Ferguson estimated that more than 100 million people were lost in the trade. At least 15 million Africans died on the trip across the Atlantic Ocean, whether they died of illness, were killed by the ships’ crews, or jumped overboard rather than endure slavery, Ferguson said.

“These are not things that came down from nowhere,” he said. “Someone had to make a decision to go into Africa and kidnap our people. It was a cold-blooded, calculated decision made way back then.”

In the fight for reparations, one of the most important battles is to sue the federal government, Sherrod-Ali said. While suits that have been filed against corporations such as Aetna draw attention to the movement, the U.S. government is the big fish here, she said.

“Suing corporations only gets money,” she said. “A government suit would be recognized by international bodies.”

While suing the government is difficult, Sherrod-Ali argues that the government is liable because it passed and upheld laws allowing people to own slaves as chattel, which means the African slaves were held on the same level as property, she said. The government also made all slaves U.S. citizens after the Civil War, without considering whether they wanted to be citizens, she said.

“Nobody asked us if we wanted to be citizens,” Sherrod-Ali said. “I’m sure most of us would have said, ‘Hell no.’ ”

And despite the fact that African Americans were ensured access to the polls through the Voter Rights Act of 1965, the legislation has to be renewed, just one example of the remaining vestiges of slavery, Sherrod-Ali said.

“They give us something and then they take it away.” she said. “They perpetuate exactly what the 13th Amendment was supposed to abolish.”

Ferguson also announced that the Rochdale Village chapter of N’Cobra is sponsoring two buses to the Millions for Reparations March on Washington, D.C., planned for Aug. 17. Tickets are still available for the second bus and cost $30 each, he said.

“We should get down to Washington in as large a size as we possibly can,” Ferguson said. “It sends a message to the enemy that we are concerned, and we are working.”

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at, or by phone at 229-0300, Ext. 138.

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