The University of Chicago case for reparations
Georgetown University professor Michael Eric Dyson suggested in January that whites should open up “individual reparations accounts” to literally pay back black Americans for slavery; consequently, in March of this year I wrote an article titled: The Case for Reparations. That article resonated deeply for many that have an appreciation of History from the perspective of those of us who have lived it! The concept of reparations is a familiar one within the United States judiciary system. Recently, a group of plaintiffs have filed claims for reparations against several large corporations that are allegedly built by virtue of the manual labor of the largely African American Trans-Atlantic slave workforce. These assertions have been marred and decried yet the underlying reasoning behind them conforms to an oppressive and prejudicial foundation for America’s wealth and prosperity. The primary industries associated with these exploitative enterprises include: financial, railroad, tobacco, insurance, and textile companies. Even today, many companies in the aforementioned fields are operating in a moral grey area in relation to underpaying workers, unsustainable usage of resources and general corruption. However, these issues pale in comparison to the multitude of horrors our country’s forefathers visited upon the African American workforce. Case in point; The University of Chicago; a powerhouse in the halls of academia and a bastion of the upper echelon of education; has some explaining to do. Consider this snippet of American History: The great desire of Julia Leakes was to reunite with her family. In the Lawrence County of Mississippi, Julia had two sisters, thirteen nieces, and nephews who came to be sold in the year 1859. Julia, as an enslaved woman, she did everything she could just to negotiate the sale of her family to Stephen A. Douglas, the man who owned her.
The plantation manager to Douglas said to him, ‘’these black slaves are pleading for you to buy them’’. Instantly Julia’s siblings, all of her nephews and nieces are kept on the auction block, where eventually they all vanished from historical records.
In the year 1859, in Washington County, Mississippi, Julia Steaks almost died under the leadership of a new overseer for Douglas. The maltreatment of Douglas’s slave was known everywhere. He had no regard for them.
In a particular report, it was said that on the plantation of Douglas, slaves were without clothes and hardly got any food. Dr. Dan Brainard of Rush Medical College stated that the Douglas’ slaves were forced to go through situations that were disgraceful and inhuman. He also said that it was so terrible that even Douglas’s fellow slaveholders who were present in Mississippi branded him as a disgrace to their occupation.
The sufferings of Julia Leakes and her family has a lot to do with the existence of the University of Chicago today. Douglas became very wealthy in the years 1848 to 1857 from the capital and labor gotten from his slaves’ efforts. This also made his political career to take on a new height. The money he made from slavery made him so financially secured to the extent of providing ten acres of land to begin the University of Chicago which is valued at about the sum of $1.2 million dollars today.
The foundation of the University of Chicago is soaked in the blood of black men and women who were enslaved by Stephen A. Douglas. The University of Chicago borrowed over $6 million dollars to create its Gothic campus, its organizational framework, its vast network, and its institutional structures, and before the year 1881, it also got an endowment of $4 million.
It is worthy to say that the past of the University of Chicago has everything to do with the fortune made from slavery.
The University of Chicago is not the only institution or organization that has deep roots in the slavery of black men and women, So many businesses, universities and elite colleges have their roots in slavery. So many schools and organizations owe big endowments to the finances of the slave economy. The universities continue to leverage their grants to develop students that are talented and create physical plants.
The University of Chicago sits on the south side of the city that bears its name. It is rightly positioned to address slavery legacy in various forms. For a long time, Chicago has been a major place to witness the life and culture of black people. Creating an African American studies department should have been implemented years ago.
A “Faculty of Color” should also be created; the university should also mentor and recruit students who are underrepresented to attend the University. This is not reparations; it is simply the right thing to do. Organizations and individuals residing on the south side of Chicago should not be ordered around while leading the way, as details of the University of Chicago’s involvement in slavery and various discrimination posts in 1967 are recorded. This can be a completely new way of human interactions, social organization, and self-governance. If this project is completed in the right way, reparations can show a better side of politics being filled with love and justice, not just impishness built on self-interest.
A new and better America is what reparations will bring us. Though, it might not be easy and sweet initially, reparations has to continue until slavery is totally eradicated in all its contemporary forms and a new order takes place. The moral obligation to provide recompense to the descendants of African American slaves is not the only driving force behind this action. It is possible that a meaningful demonstration of sympathy, guilt and empathy for the plight of the African American’s past and present, might be swept aside along with the ingrained prejudices still plaguing a large proportion of the African populace. This could create a heightened degree of social awareness within the American people regarding the disparity between the ‘per capita’ income of ‘white’ and ‘black’ neighborhoods. There are dramatically large incarceration statistics for African Americans, predominantly male, and a distressing prevalence of drug and alcohol abuse within this stratum of African American culture. The American upper class largely holds to the belief that they cannot be held accountable for the sins of their forefathers…false!
The University of Chicago must fully accept that its foundation is built on slavery. The financing of the institution was with slaves’ blood money. Presently, the establishment has only an abysmal 1.8 percentage of black men enrolled. The fact that the university is located in Chicago where about 34% of black people comprise its population should speak to the need for an immediate change and a heartfelt apology from the University of Chicago to the African American community at large.