Timia McFarlin (Courtesy photo)

African Americans have been enslaved more than once in their lifespan. In fact, the community is still enslaved today because most African Americans suffer the long-term social-economic effects that slavery has had on us as a people both directly and indirectly.

Do you, as an African American person reading this article, feel free? Are you as an African American parent having to coach your children about what to do when encountering police authority? Do you as an African American feel there are fewer opportunities for you to get ahead based on the color of your skin?

Do you as an African American student, employee, or entrepreneur have to prove your belonging in rooms of people who do not look like you? I would like to believe so, but are other races conditioned to do the same as a result of their unfair and unjust treatment? I think not.

Since the beginning of slavery, our African American people have fought and are currently still fighting for equality. Juneteenth was said to be the day our people were set free, but we all know slavery went on even years after that.

We hear stories like those about Henrietta Wood, who was a slave from Kentucky that moved to Ohio in 1848 when her slave owner migrated there. During her time in Ohio, Wood was given papers that stated, “she was a free slave” and it was her first time as a free woman in a free state.

In 1853, she was kidnapped and re-enslaved by a sheriff deputy at the time and sent back to her hometown. She was forced to march from Mississippi to Texas where she remained enslaved even after the Civil War and the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.

By 1869, Henrietta was able to escape her owner and return to Ohio where after a year, she was able to file a lawsuit for $20,000 in reparations against the man that kidnapped and sold her back into slavery. Woods won her case and was awarded $2,500, which wasn’t nearly close to what she requested or even a dent in what her kidnapper’s net worth was at the time, but this remains the largest known sum restitution ever awarded by a U.S. court to a formally enslaved person.

Her argument was that freedom from slavery (Juneteenth) alone, wasn’t enough to repair all the doom from enslavement and that actual freedom meant reparations. Her story has raised questions in debates regarding what enslaved people and their descendants are owed for slavery and its aftermath.

According to The Center for American Progress (2021), the median wealth (without defined-benefit pensions) of Black households in the United States was $24,100, compared with $189,100 for White households. Therefore, the typical Black household had 12.7 percent of the wealth of the typical White household, and they owned $165,000 less in wealth.

The average Black household had $142,330 in 2019 compared with $980,549 for the average White household. This means that, on average, Black households had 14.5 percent of the wealth of White households, with an absolute dollar gap of $838,220. This demonstrates that there is still an ongoing issue with discrimination in our economic system that keeps blacks from achieving the American Dream.

There are several obstacles on top of discrimination that were present during slavery that still exists to this day, from labor and housing discrimination to systematically worse treatment in education, health care, and in the criminal justice system. According to Pew Research Center (2019), more than half (56%) of Americans say being Black hurts people’s ability to get ahead at least a little.

When those who say this are asked why Black people in the U.S. may have a harder time than White people getting ahead, more point to racial discrimination and less access to good schools and high-paying jobs as major reasons than to family instability, lack of good role models and lack of motivation to work hard.

Why is it that our freedom and debt owed to us as a people for all our ongoing pain and suffering is still up for debate?

Call to Action – H.R. 40: Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act was introduced to Congress on January 9, 2023. This bill is in its first stage of the legislative process. It is to be considered by a committee next before it is sent to the House or Senate. I ask that the African American community and its allies at least attend one Reparations Task Force Meeting which is open to the public both in person and via live stream.

For any information about this bill, its status, and meeting schedule, please visit: https://oag.ca.gov/ab3121