Slavery Reparations

I have just come across an interesting article here and am wondering what folks think about this. In essence:

[ul]Quote:Three major US corporations have been named in a lawsuit filed in New York on behalf of African Americans who are seeking compensation for the abuses suffered by their ancestors.

I find myself on the fence here. On the one hand, it is arguably true that the ancestors of those that suffered slavery continue to feel its effect today; on the other hand I am wondering where the cut-off for this is.

Is 200+ years long enough ago that we relegate what happened to history, vow to learn from the horrible mistakes that our ancestors made and move on? What about 500? 1000?

I am very interested in people’s thoughts.

I have a problem with this too, for two reasons. The plaintiffs, as I understand it, are not claiming any damage to themselves, but to their ancestors, who have long been dead. I don’t know the basis of the action: is it for unlawful enrichment? or what? In any event, it must be a tort action, and the Statute of Limitations has long lapsed. Further, the plaintiffs are not saying that they were wronged, but their long-dead ancestors were wronged. Unless they can show a direct link to that wrong and to some loss on their part, I would not think that they have standing to sue. Well, who does, you say? No one.

The reparations made by the Germans to the Holocaust victims and their relatives were voluntary on their part, acknowledging the wrong they committed. I don’t believe any suit was brought.

First, you might argue that the loss of life and treasure in the Civil War would be sufficient.

Second, if it were not for stupidity, greed and lust lawyers would have no work. You figure out which category this supposed law suit falls under.

Third, if the Union Pacific Railroad (for example) did my Great-grandfather dirt, do I have a claim some 100 years later?

The articles I’ve seen about this have also mentioned that - at least in the case of the current lawsuits - the companies are being sued for performing acts that were legal at the time they were performed.

Morality issues aside, the articles mentioned that the lawsuits were going to be an uphill battle because of this.

I believe that ancestors of slaves should be compensated. An enormous amount of wealth was kept from unpaid laborers, and generations were deprived of their ancestor’s hard-earned inheritence.

Although I think–in theory–the descendents of slaves should be compensated by companies that benefited from slave labor, I know it ain’t going to happen.

First of all, this is a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of 35 million people. Proving that the ancestors of all of these people were damaged by the three companies involved in the suit will be difficult. Perhaps if they had narrowed down the people who’s ancestors were directly affected, they would have an easier case. I fear the case will suffer because of this.

Secondly, they will be forced to prove that these companies–rather than the system that allowed to them operate–are responsible for the damages suffered to the black community because of slavery. This will be enormously difficult.

Third, one can make the case that these companies weren’t breaking the law since slavery was a legal institution back then. However, this argument might be weakened if they can show that these companies were involved in illegal slave trading, as the article mentions.

Fourth, I’m not sure that one can successfully sue on behalf of an ancestor. If my grandfather is robbed by a crooked salesman, can I sue for damages way after he’s died? Not being a lawyer, I don’t know if I could.

Personally, I think slave reparations is a lost cause. Perhaps if it was 1902 instead of 2002, we’d be in a better situation since there would many surviving slaves to make their case, as were the Holocaust survivors and the Japanese-Americans interned by the US who received reparations. Instead of slave reparations, I think compensation should be demanded for the hellish era called Jim Crow. Many people still living today were deprived of the civil and economic rights as written in the Constitution. During Jim Crow, it was alright to pay a black worker less than a white one for doing the same job, and these people are still reminded of that disparity every time they compare their social security checks. Just as slavery deprived people of their humanity, so did Jim Crow.

But rather than sue private companies, I think it would be more prudent to sue the local governments that allowed and enforced Jim Crow in the first place.

Slavery officially ended in about 1863 with the Emancipation Proclamation, which Lincoln could not enforce in the South at the time. De facto slavery continued for some time thereafter. So it is substantially less than 200 years since slavery has been legal in this country. (Slavery does still exist illegally in parts of the world.)

Now you have asked a question about statutes of limitations as we lawyers would call it. That is how long you have to bring a particular case before the law says that the claim is stale. For example, in California, if you get hit in an auto collision, you have 1 year to sue for various damages, with special exceptions for people incapacitated (minors, insane folks, comas and others.) But in your situation, you have an institution that was perfectly legal (ewww) when it was practiced (at least as I understand the question and slavery we are talking about.) So even if you have no statute of limitations that is applicable (in California no civil cause of action has a statute longer than 10 years (again exception for incapacity), so you are out of civil court in California on a legal theory.)

So to make the best argument, for the sake of playing devil’s advocate for educational purposes only (because I don’t believe this is a good suit), you would have to say in your complaint something to the effect that basic human rights make slavery illegal, and retroactively, such that it never could have been legal anywhere, anytime and that those slavemasters who practiced it knew it. And you would have to allege that you were under an incapacity to sue earlier. Namely, that the law did not allow for it. The argument would be that folks in cahoots with the law made it legal illegally and in a manner that normal legislative privileges do not apply, and that they have also used the law to illegally prevent lawsuits since. Were this anything less ugly than slavery, I’d say fat chance. And I’ll certainly say fat chance with respect to the current Supreme Court entertaining such an argument. I’m pretty liberal, and I think it is completely bogus to bring suit for slavery. Equitable tolling ended a long time ago, not to mention that nobody alive was ever a slave.

A better case could be made for Legislative reparations. Congress did this a while back for Japanese Americans interred during WWII without probably cause. But that is what various affirmative action programs were/are.

In defense of us liberals, I do not know any California Democrats affiliated with the party who have put forward any proposal along these grounds for the whole party to consider. While there may be pockets of people who want reparations, they haven’t put it before the whole party yet, and we do get to consider fairly weird stuff on a regular basis. Moreover, I have never anywhere inside or outside an official function any liberal even bring up the issue.

Everything I hear about reparations is from the right wing nuts like David Horowitz who pretend it is a real issue and a big issue (it is neither) and use it as a whipping horse to raise funds for their various organizations and something to talk about on right wing radio programs. I do gather from these wing nuts that some college students yammer about the idea. But that is going nowhere.

AA is *not[/] reparation for slavery. If it were, then only black Americans would be targeted. This obviously isn’t so.

The complaint for the lawsuit can be found here.
The claim appears to be based in unjust enrichment and violations of human rights.
As to how they deal with filing this lawsuit about 150 years after slavery ended, they allege that the plaintiffs have had difficulty finding receords regarding their ancestors and regarding corporate histories. They also allege that the defendants’ refusal to provide an accounting is a continuing tort and therefore the statute of limitations has been tolled.

I can see in a few decades Mexicans will sue the US for having denied them work permits and forced them to risk their lives crossing rivers and desserts to enter the US. Then will be exposed and recognised the inhumanity of a system that exploited Mexicans in such an inhuman way and their descendants will be paid handsome reparations. The fact that today those acts are legal will be no excuse.

Wouldn’t this set a rather difficult, to say the least, precedent?

Wouldn’t you then have everyone and his first cousin twice removed sueing everyone else for some slight suffered by their ancestors?

It’s bad enough that the Yugoslavs kill each over things that happened in the Middle Ages-the question is-where does it end? When do we begin to move FORWARD?


While I certainly do enjoy watching Evil Corporate America take a licking once in a while, not this way!

Let’s see . . .when did my grandparents come in off the boat? Here’s where they come from; perhaps I am liable as well:

Sweden- Should I be sued by the descendents of the thousands of innonent Noth and Baltic Sea villagers that were looted, pillaged and raped by the Vikings?

Spanish- Indians should sue me for the millions who died during the age of the conquistadores.

French- Descendents of the Hugeonots have a case here.

Scottish- Er, no I guess I am okay here, I dont recall that Scottish looting and killing too many people.

German- AH! This one is quite obvious . . .

Irish- Naaah— the Irish have always been invaded.

So, it does look like I could be sued if this idiocy is allowed to go through.

Here’s my message to reparations agitators: I WILL GO TO JAIL BEFORE YOU GET ONE DIME FROM ME IN REPARATIONS. Get over it.

This is a very dangerous lawsuit, and hopefully some idiot judge will not take it seriously. Forcing Whitey to pay reparations, even if it is some evil corporation, will only divide the gap between the races even further than it is now.

Why do I have a bad feeling about this?

Incorrect. You, however, are right that, as far as the federal government was concerned, Slavery was officially over in the territories “currently in rebellion.” Check any handy copy of the United States Constitution and you will thus discover the actual date Slavery was officially ended in the United States.

It still exists in some other countries, legal or not.

So are you being sued in this case? Who’s trying to take money from you?


Why is it dangerous? If it’s such a ludicrous case, it will be thrown out and we’ll have nothing to worry about.


The companies being sued aren’t Whitey. They are corporations, with black employees and stockholders as well as white. Individuals aren’t being sued here; it’s institutions. Just like if I were to sue the federal government, I wouldn’t be suing all of the individuals of the Bush Administration, but rather the institution. And as a tax payer, I would be contributing to the pot going to my award, if I should win.


Because you want to? Who knows.


One could argue that the reparations paid to interned Japanese Americans already set the precedent.

Unlike the interned Japanese Americans, American slaves were promised 40 acres and a mule by the federal government following the abolish of slavery. This was a promise for reparations, and so far this promise has not been fulfilled.

But seeing as the plaintiffs in the case are going after private corps instead of the government, they won’t be able to use this argument. (darn!)


Can’t they do that now? What difference will this case going to trial make?


So you’re comparing voluntary migration to hundreds of years of enslavement and brutality? Goodness.

Whenever I find myself in a debate over slave reparations, someone inevitably asks about the make-believe reparations of another group. It’s as if people think that if you grant reparations to one group, then you have to give reparations to others, regardless of the validity of their claims. That’s a foolish argument, IMO. Everyone who feels they are owed should be able to seek compensation. Whether or not the courts grant them their compensation is another matter.

Besides the Native Americans, no other ethnic group in this country has been robbed by the government and private corporations more than black Americans. It’s just unfortunate that we’ve waited so long filing an official complaint focused on slavery. To me, all the problems of this case rest on the issue of time and convincing a jury that institutions should be held responsible for ALL damages conducted in their name, regardless of when they happened. The logistics of distributing winnings is also important, but shouldn’t have bearing on the decision.

Ah, yes, BUT…there are still people alive today who were in the internment camps. There are also still Holocaust survivors living. There aren’t any former slaves still living.

The problem is-what do we do about the past? Our ancestors persecuting another group? Where is the statute of limitations?

I keep hearing about “Jim Crow” laws.

How many states, outside of the Democrat controlled South, had “Jim Crow” laws?

You mean good Democrats like Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms?

A suit was filed, but they ended up settling. The Germans were generally enthusiastic about settling in order to help the healing process (apologies for the new age-y phrase), though the Swiss were offended because they felt they were guiltless. Slavery reparations are essentially the same idea, but with serious practical difficulties that others have identified. I’ve attending some lectures given by the lead counsel on the Holocaust suits, and he has some interesting perspectives on the issue. I think the point of reparations is to acknowledge the consequences of slavery. We haven’t quite dealt with our history in this country.

I consider these suits meritless for the reasons given by earlier posters. I have no doubt that the suits will go nowhere.

I actually would be happy to see the defendant corporations sue the plaintiffs’ attorneys for filing a malicious or bad faith lawsuit. (I do not know what the technical name is.)

These suits strike me as publicity stunts at best. They might even be something akin to blackmail. (“Pay us a big settlement or we’ll blacken your reputation.”)

No, Minty Green, I’m referring to the Jim Crow laws which were made and enforced by Democrats in the Southern States. You do realize that Democrats had a virtual lock on most of the South during the period 1870-1990?

Anyway, my question was, was Jim Crow practiced to any great extent beyond the racist, segregationalist, Southern States.

Well, they were Democrats at the time of the Jim Crow Laws. :slight_smile: