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Vanderbilt professors tout opposing views

Aug. 13, 2002, 4:07 PM

August 13, 2002

On Aug. 17, organizers from Chicago, Atlanta, New York and other major cities across the country hope to attract millions of people to a protest march on the U.S. Capitol, “built with slave labor”. With the theme “You Owe Us,” the event hopes to build momentum for paying reparations to the descendants of slaves in America. Lawsuits recently filed in New York and New Jersey seeking $1.5 trillion from major corporations for having wrongly profited from the slave trade promise to further fuel this debate. Vanderbilt faculty are available to offer commentary and insight into widely divergent sides of this issue.

PROMINENT BLACK SCHOLAR SAYS REPARATIONS DEBATE DETRACTS FROM COMMUNITY’S REAL PROBLEMS: Black leaders need to forget “ancient wrongs” and focus on finding solutions to present day problems, according to Carol M. Swain, professor of law and political science at Vanderbilt University and author of the newly released The New White Nationalism in America: Its Challenge to Integration. “This ill-conceived and untimely focus on slave reparations does a real disservice to our nation. While black leaders engage in photo ops, black communities are being devastated by drug abuse, illegitimacy, crime and high rates of HIV infection.” In addition, Swain argues, the march on Washington, D.C. will be ineffective in making slave reparations a national priority and, in fact, will serve only to “poison the well of race relations” by further alienating blacks from the rest of the country.

RESTITUTION IS THE LEAST WE CAN DO FOR THE FAMILIES OF THE VICTIMS OF SLAVERY. The damage done by slavery and segregation can never be “repaired” but 40 acres and a mule with 136 years worth of interest would be a place to start, according to Jonathan David Farley, professor of mathematics at Vanderbilt and a Fulbright Distinguished Scholar at the University of Oxford. Calling for a “Marshall Plan for Africa,” Farley argues that everyone in America, even those whose families immigrated to America in the 1900s, should feel morally obligated to pay reparations since the nation’s wealth today is derived from “stolen land and stolen labor.”

Farley is in England through August but can readily be reached via phone and e-mail.

Media contact: David Glasgow, (615) 322-2706

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