Speakers say time is right for black reparations

May 12, 2001|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

LOS ANGELES - The movement among American blacks to seek apology and compensation for slavery, enforced segregation and other racially biased acts has gained unprecedented popularity among mainstream Americans, according to speakers at a conference on the issue yesterday.

More than 150 years after blacks first turned to the courts for relief from racist laws, widespread redress is increasingly discussed in concrete terms among black intellectuals, activists and policy-makers, the speakers said during the conference at the University of California, Los Angeles.

"This is the fourth paper I've delivered on reparations in this year alone," said Roy Brooks, a law professor at the University of San Diego and author of a recent book on the subject. "That suggests there's much to say about the subject, and that the question of reparations is a hot issue internationally and nationally."

The discussion came on the first day of a two-day conference at UCLA that focused on broad issues of compensation for ethnic groups that have suffered systematic abuse by governments and corporations.

As affirmative action and other programs designed to compensate racial minorities for discrimination are increasingly being dismantled, such gatherings underscore a belief that redress is needed. Tougher issues such as who would qualify for reparations, how much they would cost and how Congress could be persuaded to approve them have yet to be tackled.

The conference, titled "The Struggle for Justice: A Symposium on Recognition, Reparations and Redress," included discussion of Native American and Mexican-American claims to land, and the reparations movement's debt to Japanese-Americans interred during World War II.

In 1989, U.S. Rep. John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, drafted a bill in the House of Representatives seeking reparations for slavery.

For years, Conyers stood virtually alone in his push, which many considered militant. But last year, the tide turned.

Randall Robinson, a black leader, wrote "The Debt," a widely publicized book calling for reparations for blacks.

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