Justin Dyer on “Confronting Slavery,” by Suzanne Cooper Guasco

For the Library of Law and Liberty, Justin Dyer, JMC Fellow and Director of the Kinder Forum on Constitutional Democracy at the University of Missouri, considers Suzanne Cooper Guasco’s Confronting Slavery: Edward Coles and the Rise of Antislavery Politics in Nineteenth-Century America.

In his poignant and widely discussed Atlantic essay, “The Case for Reparations,” Ta-Nehisi Coates recently laid out in painful detail the history of slavery and brutal racial violence in the United States. Despite the title, however, the essay is less a case for reparations than a case for talking about reparations, or at least talking about the ugly facts of our history. Coates offered no policy prescriptions, no details about how reparations will work or who will get them. “What I’m talking about is more than recompense for past injustices,” Coates insists, “—more than a handout, a payoff, hush money, or a reluctant bribe. What I’m talking about is a national reckoning that would lead to spiritual renewal.” What Coates is talking about is, in short, something akin to South Africa’s post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a quasi-judicial body empowered to investigate past social injustices and human rights abuses, facilitate testimony and confession, grant amnesty and award monetary damages. The process would entail more than a cash payment from the American government to its black citizens; it would be an occasion for national repentance and renewal. “Reparations would mean a revolution of the American consciousness,” he insists, “a reconciling of our image as the great democratizer with the facts of our history.”

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