Does legal make it right?

In January 2008, the documentary film “Banished” told the story of stolen land and lives in the South.

African-Americans make up more than 54 percent of the population in the South, but many towns in the region remain all-white, to this day. From 1864 to the 1920s, white Americans forced entire African-American communities off their land and out of their homes through lynchings and intimidation.

Marco Williams’ film “Banished” takes a look at this buried chapter of history through the histories and present-day stories of black families whose lives and land were stolen in areas such as Forsyth County, Georgia; Pierce City, Missouri; and Harrison, Arkansas – the headquarters of the Ku Klux Klan.

There was also a white woman in Forsyth who spoke to the complexity of the situation of whites living on stolen black land. She questioned if she should be penalized for owning land that might have belonged to a black who was banished from Forsyth. She explained that she purchased her land legally and fairly and that if it is land that was stolen. She did not steal it and was not aware that it was stolen. She asks, “What should be done?”

I propose that a reparation tax be assessed on all Americans for the specific intention of redressing the stolen land of blacks. When a person living on these stolen lands elects to sell, the first people who have a right to purchase are the descendants of the blacks expelled. The buyers must purchase at market rates. If they are unable to afford the market value, they can access the reparation fund. This would ensure that those presently living on this property are not penalized for their prior purchase; it would also begin to reintegrate these communities.

There is precedent for solutions to this travesty of justice. Congress passed the “American-Japanese Reparation Act,” which compensated Americans-Japanese and their descendants for land and property seized by the government in 1940. Maybe a voluntary deduction from our Federal Income Tax into a Reparation Fund?

The current issue of Atlantic Magazine (June 2014) has an exhaustive article dealing with reparations. The issue will be in the news from now on.

John W. Merrick


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