Sankofa Study Circle

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

What to Black people is the 4th of July? Why We Need Reparations

By Salim Adofo
National Vice Chairperson
National Black United Front

On July 5, 1852, in a meeting sponsored by the anti-lynching society, Frederick Douglass gave the speech "What to the slave is the 4th of July?" In his speech, he illustrated the terrible conditions that Black people face, living in America. He showed the contradiction of white America celebrating freedom, but at the same time denying it to Black people.

During the time of Frederick Douglass, the dominant society denied people of African descent access to a quality education, access to resources to build quality homes, and access to affordable healthcare.  Plantation overseers/officers brutalized Black people and Black places of worship were destroyed without any compensation.

In fact, according to the Supreme Court of the United States, in what became known as the Dred Scott Decision, Black people did not have any rights that a white person was bound to respect.

Now, 163 years later, one must ask the question, "What to Black People is the 4th of July?" Do Black people have a reason to celebrate the freedom and independence of America? Are Black people owed reparations?

In 2015, Blacks may no longer face "Jim Crow"; however, Blacks are confronted with a more sophisticated version titled "James Crow the II." Overt acts of white supremacy have been replaced, in some cases, with Institutional White Supremacy.

Criminal Justice System

For example, mainstream America will have you believe that the 13th Amendment of the Constitution freed African people from slavery, however it only legalized it. The 13th Amendment reads:

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Therefore, if one is convicted of a crime, you can be subjugated to "legal slavery."

This has proven to be very significant, because Black people are less than 20% percent of the population, yet are over 40% of the prison population. Once a Black person has a felony record, she or he is often denied government jobs, can no longer qualify for financial aid for college, disqualified from residing in government housing, and in many states disqualified from voting.  If one is unable to have a place to live, work, obtain a job, pay for school or is unable to vote to change the laws, she or he is being maneuvered into an illegal activity, just to survive.


Just recently the Supreme Court ruled to keep the fair housing act of 1968 effective.  Although that act was put into place 47 years ago, it still hasn’t been able to be implemented effectively.   Billionaire Donald Sterling was sued by the US Department of Justice for housing discrimination against Blacks in Los Angeles California in 2009.  Also in 2009, Bank of America was also sued for forcing bad mortgages of Black people and then foreclosing on their homes.  Additionally, a as result of many urban Black communities being gentrified, Black people can no longer afford to live in the community that their families have been in for generations.


When it comes to the quality of education that Black people are receiving has improved, but there is a very long way to go.  In 2012 the Daily News reported that in NYC public schools, Black students have less advance placement classes, as well fewer science labs.  NPR reported in 2013 that Historically Black Colleges and Universities are receiving less funding than primary white institutions. Schools such as Morris Brown and St. Paul’s College have already closed their doors.

163 years later, Blacks are still people suffering political oppression, economic exploitation and social degradation because of the institutionalized racist policies and practices of the dominant society. This only strengthens the entitlement to reparations that people of African descent in America deserve.

In 1989 Congressman John Conyers introduced the bill H.R. 40, Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act.  The bill does four things:

  1. It acknowledges the fundamental injustice and inhumanity of slavery
  2. It establishes a commission to study slavery, its subsequent racial and economic discrimination against freed slaves;
  3. It studies the impact of those forces on today's living African Americans; and
  4. The commission would then make recommendations to Congress on appropriate remedies to redress the harm inflicted on living African Americans.

 The National Black United Front has launched a petition in support of H.R. 40.  To sign the petition, click here.

NBUF’s position is that reparations in the best solution to address all of the issues of inequalities that African people in America face.

To learn more about reparations we encourage everyone to attend the upcoming NBUF International Reparations Symposium scheduled to take place in Washington DC September 11 – 13.  For more information contact: or 301-836-1826