The Black Woman Who Launched The Modern Fight For Reparations

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Written by Ann Brown
Moore
Collage by Autumn Keiko

The issue of reparations to African Americans for slavery has been heating up, and there was even a recent Congressional hearing to debate it. But the call for reparations goes way back. And behind the movement were many Black-American women.

The late “Queen Mother” Audley Moore has been called the founder of the modern reparations movement, though there is some argument over this. As one person tweeted: “…the New Black Media is Responsible for the Resurgence of #Reparations for Black Americans.”

Perhaps Moore could be called the woman behind the modern day push for reparations, as there have been others behind her who have fought for reparations. 

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“Belinda Sutton is among the first black women to demand reparations for slavery in North America. Her owner, Isaac Royall Junior, fled North America in 1775, during the American Revolutionary War. He left behind his assets but his will included provisions to pay Belinda a pension for three years,” History News Network reported.

After the three years had passed, Belinda petitioned the Massachusetts legislature to get her pension extended. She used the argument that her labor had contributed to the wealth of the Royalls. Sutton was granted her request.

Former slaver and freedom fighter Sojourner Truth also demanded reparations for slavery through land redistribution. 

“Following the end of slavery, during Reconstruction, Truth argued that slaves helped to build the nation’s wealth and therefore should be compensated. In 1870, she circulated a petition requesting Congress to provide land to the ‘freed colored people in and about Washington’ to allow them ‘to support themselves,’” History News Network reported. Truth was unsuccessful. 

Another ex-slave named Callie House pushed for reparations. House was a widow and mother of five children. She worked as a washerwoman, she witnessed many former slaves who were old, sick, and unable to work. House went on to become one of the leaders of the National Ex-Slave Mutual Relief, Bounty and Pension Association. The association pressed Congress to pass legislation to award pensions to freedpeople. But her efforts led to House being charged by the Post Office Department charged Callie House in 1916 for using the U.S. mail to defraud. She was sentenced to  one year in prison.

Years later Audley Eloise Moore, who became known as Queen Mother Moore, picked up the reparations fight. 

“Born in 1898, Moore dedicated her nearly century-long life to Black liberation. By the 1950s, Moore took action, boldly declaring that ‘somebody has to pay’ for the past and present atrocities Black people faced,” the Washington Post reported.

She organized people and groups to promote the idea of reparations. 

“In the 1950s, Moore founded or organized multiple grass-roots groups, including the National Emancipation Proclamation Centennial Observance Committee and Reparations Committee Inc. As the leader of these groups, Moore engaged in widespread organizing to collect signatures for a petition to compel the federal government to take up the issue of reparations and formulate a repayment plan,” the Washington Post reported.

By 1963, she had collected enough signatures to take her petitions to the White House. She wanted to present the petitions to President Kennedy, though this effort did not move forward.

“In 1962, Moore saw the approach of the one hundredth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 as an occasion to discuss the legacies of slavery. To this end, she created the Reparations Committee for the Descendants of American Slaves (RCDAS) that filed a claim demanding reparations for slavery in a court of the state of California,” History News Network reported. The suit was not successful.

Moore got involved in organizations defending reparations for slavery. In 1968, she joined the Republic of New Afrika and backed the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (N’COBRA)

Moore is credited it modernizing and popularizing the reparations movement.  And she fought for it until her death in 1997.

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