Monday, June 22, 2009

The First Reparation Claim?

Reparations to descendants of slaves has become a controversial topic over the last ten to fifteen years. The question appears more and more in congressional debates and in court cases.

Should payment be made for years and years of unpaid labor? If so, what type of payment should be made? Who should receive payment? How can those claims be legitimized? Should taxpayers have to pay for wrongs that weren't theirs? Aren't reparations already being paid by affirmative action and quota programs in everything from careers to college admissions? Are their other ways to right the wrongs of slavery other than monetary means? All of these questions and many more are being asked and pondered.

It might be interesting to note that the call for reparations for time in bondage is not a new one. In the year when the Civil War ended, Tennessee plantation owner P.H. Anderson made an appeal to his former slave Jourdan Anderson to return to the old home place and work for him now as a wage laborer. Jourdan Anderson had runaway during the war and had settled in Dayton, Ohio. Apparently, Jourdan's time with P.H. Anderson was not ideal as you will see from the response. Jourdan had either received an education in his slavery years, had learned to read and write rather well, and quickly as a freedman, or had someone write the letter for him. Whichever way, his response is well thought out, and although quite polite, it also has a little sting to it. The following is Jourdan Anderson's reply:

"...As to my freedom, which you say I can have, there is nothing to be gained on that score, as I got my free-papers in 1864 from the Provost-Marshal-General of the Department of Nashville. Mandy [his wife] says she would be afraid to go back without some proof that you are sincerely disposed to treat us fairly and justly - and we have concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you. This will make us forget and forgive old scores, and rely on your justice and friendship in the future. I served you faithfully for thirty-two years and Mandy twenty years. At $25 a month for me, and $2 a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to $11,680. Add to this the interest for the time of our wages had been kept and deduct what you paid for our clothing and three doctors visits to me, and pulling a tooth for Mandy, and the balance will show what we are in justice entitled to....If you fail to pay us for faithful labors in the past we can have little faith in your promises in the future. We trust the good Maker has opened your eyes to the wrongs which you and your fathers have done to me and my fathers, in making us toil for generations without recompense. Here I draw my wages every Saturday night, but in Tennessee there was never any pay day for the negroes any more than for the horses and cows. Surely there will be a day of reckoning for those who defraud the laborer of his hire. P.S.-Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me."

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