Scale of Reparations
Dr. Walter Greason
18 June 2014
Last weekend, the T. Thomas Fortune symposium hosted dozens of regional leaders in a discussion about ways to provide new funding sources for historic sites. The previous week, a coalition of lobbyists and educators came together to propose new ways to publicly finance historic preservation on the municipal, state, and federal scales. These conversations continue an orientation towards the global marketplace that originated in Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. That moment was the peak of public authority over industrial growth, and it passed three generations ago. Participation in capital markets now requires aggressive, organized private action – not a reliance on voter registration and policy reform.
T. Thomas Fortune was Booker T.Washington’s conscience, W.E.B. DuBois’ mentor, and Marcus Garvey’s interlocutor, according to legendary journalist Les Payne. He invented many of the tools of a free society, but his work as a journalist dedicated to human rights is the most impactful aspect of his legacy. In 1901, he called for the formation of a National Negro Business League – an organization of entrepreneurs who would leverage private capital to accomplish social justice. While Fortune’s effort failed (largely due to in-fighting among his peers), the concept of a coalition of industries dedicated to justice remains vital to the preservation of democracy around the world.
One of the young children inspired by the work Fortune did was William “Count” Basie. Basie felt the keen edge of injustice as he searched for opportunities as a musician in the early twentieth century. His resilience in building in audience made him one of the most popular entertainers ever. As a jazz pioneer, Basie broke down the barriers of racial segregation by creating music that united people from every culture. The improvisational character of his art revealed the complexity of the human spirit and expanded global participation in the legacy of freedom.
From fields that jazz artists like Basie plowed, organizations like TransAfrica emerged. Led by visionaries like Randall Robinson, Bill Fletcher, and Nicole Lee, TransAfrica framed a global political agenda dedicated to an open world society. One of the key precepts of their work was a just, global economy. In liberating South Africa, TransAfrica partnered with the African National Congress to organize trade sanctions against the Apartheid state. Over the last twenty years, the continuing pursuit of reparations from all parties in the trans-Atlantic slave trade had taken center stage. Political efforts towards the reparations agenda have made steady progress, culminating in the recent debate about systemic housing discrimination in the United States as the basis of injury and restitution claims. Yet none of the formulations for economic redress have focused on the autonomy of the African diaspora to drive global economic development.
Instead of addressing these claims to Washington, D.C., London, Paris, and Beijing, advocates for a just economy through sustained reparations should focus on Lagos, Akkra, Kingston, Detroit, Newark, and Jackson. Working through the political structures already established across the diaspora provides extraordinary opportunities for individual enterprises and unprecedented network marketing. These strategies do not require Congressional or Presidential approval; they even circumvent entirely the problematic structures of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Hundreds of billions of dollars of equity and human capital stand ready for mobilization to create dynamic new companies owned by working families in urban centers worldwide. The reality of reparations on a scale many thought unimaginable lies in our own hands.
One of the keys will be the creation of a transnational consciousness that exceeds the peaks of Pan-Africanism in the last century. Leadership in these communities is not a matter of local economic development. It is a sustained commitment to equitable trade networks that enable better education for children, healthier living for the elderly, and increased productivity for working people. Lifelong mobility enables greater savings, better investments, and continuous ownership of a sustainable system of private companies.
Where Fortune imagined a National Negro Business League, today’s leaders must envision a cooperative infrastructure of digital and industrial firms that generate trillions of dollars in new wealth over the next century. The people, the knowledge, and the capital are all in place. Is BK Nation ready to take the next step?
Dr. Walter Greason is the ChiefExecutive Officer of the International Center for Metropolitan Growth(www.icmetrogrowth.com) and the author of Suburban Erasure: How the SuburbsEnded the Civil Rights Movement in New Jersey. His work is available onLinkedIn, Twitter (@worldprofessor1/@icmgrowth), Facebook, and by email(firstname.lastname@example.org).