Metro Louisville Reparations
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An Open Letter to Metro Louisville on Reparations
August 7, 2020
To: Mayor Greg Fischer
Metro Louisville Council
Congressman John Yarmuth
The Black Lives Matter Spring of 2020 continues now into and through racial-justice
summer 2020. All over town, people moved to change are asking, “What do we do to
help?” Some are answering, trying to figure it out. The city and several civic groups
are laying out extensive plans like the Kerner Commission 2.0, A Path Forward, and
Build Back Better Together.
Though distinct, these are not competing calls for change. Louisville does not have
to choose one over the other. Rather, they are different expressions of very similar
will, purpose, and commitment to real solutions.
Let’s name one more solution. Reparations.
Behind and under the current unrest this year is an old, common theme. People are
in the streets due to systemic problems of racism, white supremacy, the racial
wealth gap, brutal policing, discrimination and disparities in education, housing, and
jobs. It’s history, and it’s today. Slavery. Failed Reconstruction and Black codes.
Convict leasing in America’s early centuries. In the twentieth century, lynching,
domestic terrorism, and the rise and return of the Klan. Jim Crow and segregation.
Government-authorized redlining. The war on drugs and mass incarceration in the
These terrible experiences are not separate and distinct. They constitute an
unbroken succession of oppression from then until now, encompassing nearly forty
million Black people. That’s 13% of the population of these United States. 22% of
Metro Louisville, nearly two hundred thousand local neighbors.
We cannot address the past and the present separately, as though our sordid past is
behind us and the future will take care of itself in due time. Social psychologists
remind us that believing in the myth of American racial progress over time
undermines the determination we need to address the dangers of the present. To
fully address the unbroken succession of over 400 years of oppression calls for a
comprehensive economic solution in this moment. Because moments don’t last.
The time is right for Metro Louisville to commit to action for reparations for the
American Descendants of Slavery (ADOS). Cities deep in the old Confederacy have
already begun. The mayor of Durham, NC spoke out early this year. Asheville, NC
just passed its own reparations plan. Up North, Providence, RI has already
committed. Metro Louisville should be next.
Metro Louisville should call upon the best new reparations scholarship for
information, education, principles, and guidance. Online, we recommend
www.ados101.com From Here to Equality (Darity and Mullen, 2020) is a wise,
thorough foundation. The book bullet-points a few recommendations for going
forward, listed in brief and modified here for application to our city:
- Create a Metro Louisville commission for deliberation and planning, as the
Carolina cities have begun, while supplying local data to and advocating for a
long-awaited federal planning commission, still a work in progress, that will
plan and finance reparations with federal dollars
- Decide eligibility on the criterion that Americans with one enslaved
ancestor who have self-identified as ADOS, Black, or previous related names
for at least 12 years may receive reparations
- Resolve to support and advocate for trillions of federal dollars to be
paid to individuals in reparation across the nation, as calculated and
measured by one or more metrics, e.g., the value of enslaved labor to the rise
of the American economy to world dominance, a double standard in
homestead land distribution, wealth inequality due to discrimination under
Jim Crow, and/or simply a 13% share of America’s household wealth, and
- Plan for such distribution in measure everywhere, including in Metro
Louisville, via superfunds, trust funds, or bonds
Such scholarship declares the need for individual payments with federal dollars, in
addition to and in concert with local equity enhancements- social, cultural,
personal, legislative, and policy reforms- well-described in Kerner Commission
Can we do it? Meaning, how can we possibly afford reparations? Yes, we can do it.
We pay for what we want to do. We paid our way out of the Depression. We paid for
the space race. We pay for wars. We pay for Wall Street bailouts. Just this spring, we
Americans allocated ourselves trillions of federal dollars to see us through a
pandemic that has brought on massive unemployment and a business crisis of huge
proportions. We can do it, without causing inflation.
Of course we can do it. Each time America has needed to change course in the
service of major decisions, we have found- created, actually- the federal dollars
required. We can pay for the reparations we all need.
Metro Louisville, as a leading major city, should be a fierce advocate for reparations.
Our mayor, the new president of the United States Conference of Mayors, has
already guided the nation’s mayors to a formal resolution supporting a federal
reparations commission. Our Metro Council has recently demonstrated its
commitment to racial justice by abolishing no-knock warrants. Congressman John
Yarmuth, chair of the Budget Committee of the US House of Representatives, is a
lifetime advocate for major structural change for the Black community.
We all need reparations, whether we are among the two hundred thousand in
Louisville, or the hundreds of thousands more in the majority. Embracing change is
a city-wide effort, not to be left to elected officials alone.
The city’s white majority may resist, due to thoughts and feelings about relative
privilege and personal responsibility. Such feelings are real, and will not be
discounted. But the white majority should lean into change joyfully, patiently
resisting any tendency toward resentment and feelings of personal attack. Grace
abounds, so let’s be graceful and generous with each other as change comes.
For reparations is not a zero-sum game, as though Black and white are in
competition, that one wins as the other loses. In fact, it isn’t a game at all: Louisville
is a family. We are in this together. We all do better, when we all do better, so
reparations are for all of us.
Dr. Kevin W. Cosby, senior pastor, St. Stephen Baptist Church, co-chair
Rev. Kelly Kirby, rector, St. Matthews Episcopal Church
Dr. Cynthia Campbell, senior pastor, Highland Presbyterian Church
Rev. Dr. Ann Deibert, co-pastor, Central Presbyterian Church
Rev. Jason Crosby, co-pastor, Crescent Hill Baptist Church
Dr. Frank Smith, senior pastor, Christ’s Church For Our Community
Rev. David Snardon, pastor, Joshua Tabernacle Baptist Church
Father Troy Overton, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel/St. Thomas More Catholic Church
Chris Sanders, attorney
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