Reparations appear to be a major discussion point these days, but Black people have been pushing for reparations for decades. One of the first to do so was a man known as Reparations Ray. Starting in the 1960s, Detroit activist Raymond Jenkins began to speak out for reparations for the descendants of slaves.
Here are five things to know about Reparations Ray, who has been hailed as a pioneer of the reparations movement.
The grandson of a Mississippi slave, Jenkins spent a 40 years working for reparations. Jenkins died April 10, 2009, at age 88.
When he wasn’t pushing reparations, he was working as a Detroit real-estate agent whose customers included Motown talent such as Stevie Wonder, The Wall Street Journal reported.
During the 1950s, Jenkins got involved in the civil rights movement, helping to organize marches on Washington, D.C. and the boycott of a local bank that had no Black tellers.
In the 1960s, Jenkins formed an organization called Slave Labor Annuity Pay, centered around reparations. Years later, in 1987, he helped found N’Cobra, the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America, to lobby for reparations.
Reparations Ra said his appeal for reparations stemmed in part from the racism he saw as a child. He often told the story of how his grandfather, who was a sharecropper after slavery, died at 103 and was too poor to afford a burial.
“He worked for 99 years for white people and died with nothing,” Reparations Ray told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in 2000. “He didn’t have anything to leave his wife, his children. The white man got all his wealth.”
Decades after he first started his fight, Reparations Ray spoke at the 2002 Millions For Reparations rally in D.C. On the stage with him was Nation of Islam’s Minister Louis Farrakhan; Conrad Worrill, chairman of the National Black United Front; and the late Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), who introduced the H.R. 40 reparations bill in 1989 and reintroduced it in Congress every year until he retired in 2017.
“They laughed at me when I talked about reparations all those years ago,” Jenkins said after appearing on stage with Conyers at the rally. “But people aren’t laughing anymore,” The Washington Post reported.
Coyners said he admired the persistence of Reparations Ray.
“I’d see him in the distance, and I’d say, ‘Uh-oh,’ ” Conyers Jr. told The Wall Street Journal. Conyers said that he credited Jenkins with inspiring legislation that would create a commission to study the issue.
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Jenkins argued that the unkept government promise of 40 acres and a mule made to freed slaves following the Civil War needed to be renewed. He said the payment could be in several possible forms of compensation — from cash grants to free college education, The Wall Street Journal reported.
People took notice of Jenkins’ idea when Congress in 1988 authorized payments to Japanese-Americans who had been held in U.S. internment camps during World War II.
“People laughed to death when I was working on the mules idea, but when the Japanese-Americans got $1.2 billion, they stopped laughing and started jumping on the bandwagon,” Jenkins told the Chicago Tribune in 1997.
Jenkins called for a $40 billion reparations payment as a start, “although he insisted that would be far from adequate compensation for 246 years of unpaid labor performed by millions of people, The Los Angeles Times reported.
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