The reparations conversation cannot continue to stall in Maryland

By Sophie Foster

Opinion Editor

In July, the state of Maryland returned to serious deliberations regarding reparations for the descendants of enslaved Americans; today, those conversations are hesitating.

According to ABC News, the Caucus of African American Leaders, composed of members of Black-run organizations, elected officials, and activists, held a unanimous vote this past summer to deliver a resolution for reparations to officials in the state. The endeavor sought programs designed to address the enduring damages of slavery for Black residents of Maryland.

“I’m inspired,” caucus convenor Carl Snowden said for ABC News. “This is the time to energize, mobilize, and organize people of goodwill to make this happen.”

The results of the vote were presented to Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley in July, and were set to land on the desk of Maryland Governor Wes Moore in August. However, according to the Maryland General Assembly, despite this movement’s furtherance to bill status, it was withdrawn by the time referral to committee within the state’s House of Representatives came.

HB0775, designed to advance the dialogue and “develop and administer a program to provide compensatory benefits to the descendants of individuals enslaved in the state,” according to the MGA, was not the first bill to fall apart en route to reparations. According to the MGA, this bill was introduced in a prior session in 2022 as HB0594 and similarly fell short of success.

Perhaps part of what makes this process so distant from follow-through is the intensely polarized status of the subject at hand. According to the Pew Research Center, while 77% of Black Americans support reparations for descendants of enslaved people, only 18% of white Americans feel the same ¾ and it is well beyond time that discrepancy changed.

According to Snowden for ABC News, not only is the need for reparations amid racist policies deeply pressing, but the lack of work done to address that need in the over 150 years since slavery was abolished explains the prominent health and wealth gaps in both the country and the state of Maryland between its Black and white residents.

“When you look at the problems that are in the African American community, many of these problems can be traced directly back to slavery,” Snowden said.

Conceptually, reparations are far from new. Japanese Americans, for example, received reparations following their incarceration in internment camps during World War II. It is possible for the government to grant these requests, and doing so is overdue.

Many other cities and states are also considering this reality and finding marginally more success at actualizing these ideas than Maryland is. California’s reparations task force held its final meeting and turned over its recommendations to its state legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom earlier this year, according to ABC News.

Unfortunately, however, according to The Baltimore Banner, the number of state and local governments undertaking this endeavor in recent years is quite low, and federal legislation in Congress has long been resting on the backburner.

It seems the push for reparations still has a long road ahead, considering Black Americans have had similar promises dangled in front of them then swept away since the Lincoln administration witnessed the abolition of slavery in 1875.

According to The Baltimore Banner, “the debate over reparations for Black Americans dates back to the waning months of the Civil War, when Union General William T. Sherman issued Special Field Orders No. 15, setting aside confiscated land along the Southeast Coast…for freed Black families…But after President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865,

the order was overturned by his successor, Andrew Johnson, who returned the land to its former Confederate owners.”

With this history of empty promises, it is well beyond time a sincere promise was made, even if only on the state level ¾ and where better to do so than a state like Maryland, that claims to be so deeply blue and so unflinchingly left in its political alignments?

For Baltimore Reverend Robert Turner, this is a fight than cannot be abandoned, regardless of how much time passes. Once a month, Rev. Turner walks from Baltimore to Washington, D.C. to leave 400 roses representing 400 years of slavery in the United States at the gates of the White House, according to The Baltimore Banner.

“By the end, my feet hurt. My legs hurt. But I get inspired by our ancestors — people like Harriet Tubman, who did this hundreds of times. This is nothing compared to slaves getting chased [barefoot]. They traveled further with a lot more stress,” Rev. Turner said for The Baltimore Banner.

According to Rev. Turner, the nation owes reparations for a myriad of reasons, including a history of domestic terrorism enacted against Black Americans, police brutality, Jim Crow laws, redlining, terror campaigns, lynchings, and broadscale discriminatory practices.

The responsibility to push for reparations rests on all of our shoulders, not just on the shoulders of the Black Americans and Marylanders already carrying the burden of decades of abuse on their backs. Retribution is owed, and should not be put off further. It is time we, as residents of a supposedly left state, put our money where our mouths are.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Photo caption: Black Americans have been calling for reparations for many years in public venues.

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