CBS News

June, 20, 2021

Watch the interview here.


The Stagville Plantation was once one of the largest plantations in North Carolina: 30,000 acres, with more than 900 enslaved people working the land.

A. Kirsten Mullen, a folklorist and arts consultant, and her husband, William Darity, an economics professor at Duke University, visited recently with “Sunday Morning” contributor Mark Whitaker.

Whitaker asked, “When you come to a place like this and you know that you have your own family, your own ancestors, who lived under these conditions, what do you think?”

“I don’t know that you’re ever prepared for it fully,” Mullen replied.

Walking into the slave quarters can be an emotional experience, even for those all-too-familiar with history. “I’m getting ready to cry now,” Mullen said. “Didn’t see that coming!

“It’s just extraordinary to me, the kind of daily abuse, not having control of your life, not being able to control and educate and nurture your own children, I just can’t imagine what that was like.”

They say when President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 ending slavery those newly-freed were left with nothing. “The former slaveholders were back in control of the properties that they previously had held, and that meant that at a location like Stagville, the land was not distributed to the folks who had worked here,” Darity said.

The federal government famously promised those formerly enslaved “40 acres and a mule.” That promise was broken, as were many more to come. Mullen and Darity have become leading voices for the argument that, to this day, this country owes a debt to Black Americans: reparations.

“We’ve even argued that if the 40-acre land grants had been given, we wouldn’t need to have a conversation today about reparations for Black American descendants of U.S. slavery,” Darity said.

Whitaker asked, “There’re a lot of people, when they hear the debate about reparations, they think, ‘This was a long time ago. What relation does it have not only to my life and what I’ve done or haven’t done, but to today’s economy?'”

“So, we think of slavery in some ways as the first affirmative action program for White people – Free labor, how ’bout it?” Mullen replied.

As Whites acquired wealth, Blacks were repeatedly shut out, largely denied land by the Homestead Act of 1862, which gave settlers territory out West; then, Terrorized by Jim Crow; later, discriminated against when it came to the GI Bill after World War II or Social Security benefits, and by redlining and other practices which prevented home ownership.