Panel tackles King's vision

John Hope Franklin, William Darity and Ambassador James Joseph participated in a discussion about reparations and opportunities for greater racial equality with an audience of about 100 at the Duke Law School Monday. The conversation, presented by the Martin Luther King Commemoration Committee and the law school, was entitled, "Realizing the Dream: Where Do We Go From Here?"

Darity, research professor of public policy studies, African-American studies and economics, opened the dialogue by directing discussions to be centered around the issues of reparations, human rights and civil rights, the latter of which he noted Franklin and Joseph for their direct involvement in.

Joseph discussed furthering the economic visions of King as a bridge to the current debate over reparations.

"What Martin Luther King was talking about in the last few years... he wasn't talking about where to sit on the bus, he was talking about owning the bus," Joseph said.

He suggested developing a fund for reconstruction and development including money to help develop black businesses and a self-help fund for the "poorest of the poor."

 Franklin, James B. Duke professor emeritus of history, said he had no problem aligning the movements for civil rights with reparations, emphasizing the token of justice reparations would provide. He noted that on visits to Washington, D.C., he had seen many plaques documenting historical events, but not one noting slavery, adding that Washington had once hosted some of the largest slave markets in the country.

"By the silence there is a denial of the role of blacks in the building of this country--not just the construction of buildings, but the building of the economy."

Darity presented three aims for reparations--an acknowledgment of harm, a position of redress for historical disparities and a bringing of closure to the addressing of harm. He felt that a legislative approach to reparations would best serve the aims of reparations, as the progress judicial rulings would provide might be limited at the local level by non-supporters.

Darity countered opposition to reparations on the grounds that it would take away many of the claims blacks have for unequal status in America in his explanation of the importance of closure.

"The purpose of having effective reparations would be closure, since no further claims would have to be made," he said.

Joseph, professor of the practice in public policy, said that closure would come with the "completion of the American revolution," where principles outlined in the Declaration of Independence such as equality and justice would finally be provided to all people, regardless of their race.

Joseph also took a hard public relations stance in discussing reparations. Although he likes the word "reparations," as it holds particular significance to him, he recognized that in some circles, the term has gained negative connotations.

"The response to the word has become damaging to its cause," he said.

Each of the panelists stressed the importance of the education of youth in the move toward reparations and equality.

Still, money remained a central issue, both for education and more traditional examples of reparations. Darity explained that when recalculated for today's dollars, the 40 acres and a mule provided for the families of freed slaves in a bill passed by Congress but vetoed by president Andrew Johnson in 1869 would equate to $1.5 million per person.

"If we found billions of dollars to rebuild Iraq, why can't we find the money to rebuild America?" Darity said.


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