This Friday the University of Virginia's Carter Woodson Institute is hosting a symposium on the question, "Does Reparations Have a Future?" I suppose the short answer is that people are continuing to use reparations talk as a way of organizing their thoughts and actions around racial justice -- even as the case for reparations has been largely defeated in the courts and in legislatures.
One of the things that really interests me -- and that Kaimi Wenger has written about --- is how reparations has been de-radicalized in recent years. Legislatures, corporations, and institutions are more willing to engage in discussions about the past (what some people call truth and reconciliation commissions) and issue apologies. That's the non-radical part. The radical part -- which continues to meet stiff restsitance to the extent it's talk about at all -- is money. And that's not going anywhere soon.
There are four panels, "Reparations in Historical Frame," "Reparations and the University," "Reparations and the Nation," and "Reparations Around the Glove." The speakers include Martha Biondi of Northwestern University; Lawrie Balfour of the University of Virginia; Lisa Crooms of Howard University; William Darity of Duke University; Adrienne Davis, of Washington University; Michael Dawson of the University of Chicago; Ted Delaney of Washington & Lee University; Kim Forde-Mazrui of UVA; Darren Hutchinson of American University; Alex Johnson of UVA; H. Timothy Lovelace of Indiana University; Pap NDiaye of L'École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales; Melissa Nobles of MIT; Margaret Urban Walker, of Marquette University; and Verna Williams of the University of Cincinnati. Here's the full schedule.
I'm very much looking forward to the discussion. I'm on the "Reparations and the University" panel, which in some ways makes sense because University, Court, and Slave is about the development of proslavery thought in the pre-Civil War southern academy. So I'll spend some time talking about schools' connections to proslavery thought and their ownership of human beings, as well.
The center of my talk is, however, is on "The Law and Future of Reparations." I have two key points -- first, the ways that there is a law of reparations, such as California's slavery era insurance disclosure statute; the (limited) compensation provided loyal slave-owners during the Civil War for slaves freed during the war; and cases that provided (or prevented) compensation for the era of Civil War. Here I'm thinking about cases like United Daughters of the Confederacy v. Vanderbilt. (I have some more on reparations past in this article.)
Second, I'm interested in where this is going. On that I have less insight, though one of my slides graphs the decline in reparations talk in law reviews since its high point in 2004. But we live in a retrospective age, which inquires about the connections of the past to the present. I think we're going to continue to hear a lot about the ways that the past affects us today. How much of that will be addressed through legislation remains to be seen.
The image is of the University of Virginia's rotunda.