Most recently, according to the Associated Press, several churches apologized for their role in the slave trade, and one is studying ways to repay Black church members. Reparations efforts have led a number of cities and states to approve measures that force businesses to publicize their historical ties to slavery. Several reparations court cases are in progress, and international human rights officials are increasingly spotlighting the issue.
Charles Ogletree, a Harvard law professor and leading activist for reparations, said that there is growing significance for the movement that has "more vigor and vitality in the 21st century than it's had in the history of the reparations movement."
The Episcopalians debated slavery and reparations for years before reaching an agreement, said Jayne Oasin, social justice officer for the denomination, who will oversee its work on the issue.
Historically, slavery was an uncomfortable topic for the church. Oasin said that some Episcopal bishops owned slaves - and the Bible was used to justify the practice.
The report came weeks after the Organization of American States requested
The modern reparations movement revived an idea that's been around since emancipation, when Black leaders argued that newly freed slaves deserved compensation. About six years ago, the issue started gaining momentum again. Randall Robinson's "The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks," was a best seller; reparations became a central issue at the World Conference on Racism in Durban, South Africa; and California legislators passed the nation's first law forcing insurance companies that do business with the state to disclose their slavery ties. Illinois passed a similar insurance law in 2003, and the next year Iowa legislators began requesting - but not forcing - the same disclosures. Several cities - including Chicago, Detroit and Oakland - have laws requiring that all businesses make such disclosures.
Support is reaching beyond African-Americans and the South. Katrina Browne, the white Episcopalian filmmaker, is finishing a documentary about her ancestors, the DeWolfs of Bristol, Rhode Island, the biggest slave-trading family in U.S. history. She screened it for Episcopal Church officials at the June convention.
"Traces of the Trade: A Story From the Deep North," details how the economies of the Northeast and the nation as a whole depended on slaves. "A lot of white people think they know everything there is to know about slavery - we all agree it was wrong and that's enough," Browne said. "But this was the foundation of our country, not some Southern anomaly. We all inherit responsibility."
She says neither whites nor Blacks will heal from slavery until formal hearings expose the full history of slavery and its effects - an effort similar to South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission after the racist apartheid system ended.
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