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Black slavery continued long after the Civil War under the guise of sharecropping and tenant farming, says a crusading California minister who has issued a call nationally for a four-day reparations march in Washington beginning October 24.
People Magazine revealed in their July 7 edition the plight of a Mississippi family who had to escape the large White-owned farms they were forced to work on up through the mid-1960s.
Famous civil rights fighter Fannie Lou Hamer shocked the nation when she told of her experience of being beaten and cheated out of her farm wages in the Mississippi Delta of the 1950s and 1960s.
In the same vein, Bishop Henry C. Williams of Oakland, Calif., a man keenly sensitive to the involuntary servitude issue, has devised a national program to recover the lost wages, time, property and life’s chances that Black farm workers were deprived of under what he calls modern-day slavery. Calling his plan “The 40 Acres and a Mule Reparations March,” Williams insists that “sharecropping-slavery” is the root cause of Black poverty in today’s United States.
“I was born in Alabama,” Williams says. “I was locked into the slave-sharecropping system, like thousands and thousands of other Black people were. Without a doubt, I equate that system with pre-Civil War slavery. I was able to move out to California and was able to join the Teamsters and made a good living. And I can contrast my life as a free laborer with that of people locked in that slavery system that still exists in many places in this country.”
Williams is president and CEO of the Job Work Development Corporation based in Oakland.
“I’m calling on my fellow Black Americans to take a stand, for your money and your land,” he says. “We are asking the President and Congress for billions of dollars per year to build and rebuild the Black communities all over America. There is a lot more work to be done. Many people think that such actions would bankrupt America. But that is not the case. We do not want it all at once, but annually, like the Native Americans receive their money.”
Williams cites the example of a $3.9 billion allocation for Native Americans in the 2006 federal budget. He also points out that Black members of some tribes continue to receive payments under the title of “freedmen,” recalling the work of the Freedmen’s Bureau and the Freedmen’s Bank that provided an economic base for former slaves.
McCain Family Values
Williams holds that current-day political leaders are a part of the history of exploitation of Black farmers and their children.
“McCain’s great grandfather owned a 2000-acre plantation in Mississippi and had 52 slaves in 1860,” Williams says. “Those slaves picked over 1,000 bales of cotton, corn and peanuts a year. Slaves and sharecroppers existed on that farm from the 1860s through 1958. This is how McCain’s family gained their wealth, wealth passed down through the generations.”
Williams holds presidential candidate John McCain accountable for the continuing legacy of slavery in his Mississippi family history.
“We want the McCains to pay from their wealth the money owed to the descendants of the Black people who made them wealthy,” Williams says. “In the Reconstruction days, John McCain’s great grandfather was responsible for the massacre of 20 Black men. Today, we want to be paid.”
Mentors and Money
Williams points out that Black people are in desperate need of massive economic help. Pointing out that the Black homeless constitute nearly 40 percent of the total number, he proposes a building program that would engage these homeless in building shelter for themselves and others in need of housing. ‘Our goal is to develop a corps of mentors and a dedicated work force that will be able to develop a wide expansion of wealth based on the reparations paid for their past labor,” Williams says.
“I want to build confidence, self-reliance and courage in our young people,” he says. “Dr. Martin Luther King summarized the reasons and need for the kind of reparations that I am proposing today. King said that America has given Black people a bad check marked “insufficient funds” in our land. It is time to correct the problem.
Contact Bishop Williams at 510-507-3424 or www.freewebs.com/ drhenry123/