LETTER TO THE EDITOR
The Bible speaks on the issue of reparations. "Fools mock at reparations, but among the upright, there is favor" (Prov. 14:9, NET ). The book of Proverbs belongs to a genre in the Old Testament of Wisdom Literature. Wisdom is the application of knowledge. For the covenant community of the Old Testament, the idea of reparations was wise, common sense.
The Torah – the ﬁrst ﬁve Books of the Hebrew Bible, gives an example of reparations paid to former slaves. "The Israelites had done as Moses told them; they asked the Egyptians for jewelry of silver and gold, and for clothing, and the Lord had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so they let them have what they asked. And so they plundered the Egyptians" (Ex. 12:35-36, NRSV).
With the death of all actual slaves in the U.S., the immediate issue confronting our nation is should the descendants of American slavery receive reparations under biblical principles or otherwise? Previously the United States answered this question afﬁrmatively. In 1988, Congress passed, and President Ronald Reagan signed a law authorizing U.S. government to disbursed $1.6 billion in reparations to Japanese Americans who had been interned during World War II. In 1946, the United States paid $1.3 billion in reparations to Native American tribes which ultimately was disbursed to their members. Adding insult to injury, in 1862 The federal government even paid reparations to slave owners.
The Sacred Scriptures provide a model for paying reparations to the oppressed. The Egyptians paid restorative justice to the Hebrews ( Ex. 12:34-35) and their descendants. Only two of the original slaves (Joshua and Caleb) entered the promised land. The other people who entered were descendants of slaves. However, they carried silver and gold as they entered the Promised Land (Deut 8:7-18).
At the conclusion of the Civil War, America’s moral compass prepared the way for payment of reparations. General William T. Sherman issued Special Field Orders Numbers 15, through which the newly emancipated former slaves were to receive forty acres and a mule. President Abraham Lincoln signed "Special Field Orders Number 15" into law but was killed the next day by John Wilkes Booth, a southern sympathizer. But, upon taking office, President Andrew Johnson rescinded "Special Field Orders Number 15." Thus Freedman were emancipated from slavery and released into abject poverty and convict leasing.
Political leaders waited until the last slave died in an effort to avoid paying reparations. Chattel slavery was a crime against humanity for which there is no statute of limitations. After slavery, Jim Crow segregation, a crime against humanity, was in existence for 150 years, and reparations are owed to the descendants of Jim Crow.
Under Jim Crow, which lasted for 150 years, many Black Americans were massacred or just run out of town. In 1920 in Ocoee, Fla., a city near Orlando, about 30-35 Black Americans were killed by a white mob that burned their buildings and residences. In Forsyth, Ga., about 1000 Black residents were forced to leave town by a white mob that set their houses and buildings on ﬁre. Similar events took place in Tulsa, Okla., Rosewood, Fla., and many other cities.
Given the atrocities of slavery and Jim Crow committed in the U.S. the Bible requires payment of reparations for crimes against humanity. Therefore, conscientious Black Americans, white Americans, Democrats, Republicans, and Independents should undertake reparations efforts until the descendants of slavery and Jim Crow are made whole.
Alfred B. Holt is Minister, Church of Christ in Perrine, Florida