By Rebekah Sager

November 9, 2023

For most Black Americans, the very concept of reparations or financial compensation repaid for enslavement feels like a Sisyphean exercise. But, surprisingly, the national reparations movement is making some headway — through local governments and commissions.

Currently, reparations proposals have been implemented or are under review in every region of the country.

In Evanston, Illinois, reparations planning began in June 2019 after a resolution was put into place to “acknowledge its own history of discrimination and racial injustice.” The official Reparations Committee was established in November 2020.

However, not everyone involved in the reparations movement agrees with Simmons and others on the local strategy.

Economist and professor at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy, Dr. William Darity, argues that local initiatives are potentially dangerous.

“I think Robin Rue Simmons would say that the state and local initiatives are a pathway to federal action,” Darity tells Reckon. “We’re inclined to think that it’s actually an obstacle to federal action because there are people who are going to say, ‘Well, you have all of these state and local programs out there.’ Even though, in fact, they’re not really a large proportion of the total. It essentially lets them off the hook because they’re going to say it’s already been done.”

Darity says he does believe that a local reparations initiative in the District of Columbia makes sense because it is a federal district.

“If they pursue local reparations, which they are attempting to do, our perspective is that they should pursue having congressional funding of their project. And that would set a precedent for a program. And it would also be highly appropriate because the District of Columbia is the only place where Congress actually paid slaveholders to emancipate their human property,” Darity says.

Darity is referring to the Compensated Emancipation Act that became law on April 16, 1862. The act freed slaves in D.C., compensating the enslavers $300 per slave. The law led to the freedom of 2,989 Black enslaved Americans in the months after the law was enacted. That same $300 would be equivalent to about $9,142 today.