Reparations for Descendants of Slaves: An Issue Within the 2020 Field

The Story:

Julian Castro, the former HUD Secretary now running for the Democratic Party’s nomination for President, said that if elected President he will appoint a task force to examine whether the descendants of enslaved people should be paid reparations. He combined this with a critique of a comment by one of his opponents, Senator Bernie Sanders.


In January 1865, as the Civil War was grinding to a close, General William Tecumseh Sherman issued Special Field Orders No. 15 a series of orders providing for the confiscation of 400,000 acres of land along the Atlantic coast of the Confederacy, which was to be divided into parcels of up to 40 acres for settling formerly enslaved families and other free blacks in the vicinity of Sherman’s line of March. These orders were never put into effect.

Sherman did not specifically mention mules, though mules of course were integral to the agricultural economy of the day, and Sherman’s order became the basis of the proverb, “forty acres and a mule,” often cited in demands for reparation for former slaves (and, as mortality wore down the number of former slaves, in demands for reparations for their descendants) from that time to our own.

The Thing to Know:

“So if, under the Constitution, we compensate people because we take their property, why wouldn’t you compensate people who actually were property?” Castro asked.

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