“The reparations movement… holds out the promise of the reconstruction of the African American community, the reconstruction of the morality of the white community, reconstruction of the entire American community.”
—Alfred Brophy, law professor
The question of reparations is for many a controversial and unanswerable one. What, if anything, are descendants owed? What is a fair compensation or way to make amends for wrongdoings generations and decades ago?
View these scenes from BANISHED to see comments and ideas surrounding the issues of markers, land and compensation.
The Strickland family’s ancestors were expelled from Forsyth County, Georgia in 1912. The family’s property, including an old burial ground, is now on white-owned land. Local newspapers from as recently as 1987 claim that banished black residents had sold their land to whites, but land deeds and tax rolls show that most of the black-owned land was never sold, but instead claimed by white residents under adverse possession—an act of acquiring the title to a property without having to pay for it.
The loss of land due to racial violence or discrimination has been devastating for many African Americans in the twentieth century. But the whites that now live on the Strickland family’s land today were not personally responsible for its adverse possession. What responsibility do you think people have for the actions of their ancestors? Do you think it is fair for people to benefit from the actions of their ancestors, such as adverse possession? Who now has the “right” to the Strickland family land?
"You know, how do you take a subject that serious and translate it into dollars? Who do you pay? I don't know."
—Mark Peters, mayor of Pierce City, Missouri
Charles Brown, Jr.’s ancestors, the Cobbs, were violently expelled from Pierce City, Missouri, in 1901. When he learns that his great-grandfather was still buried in the Pierce City cemetery, Brown decides to disinter and move the body. He asks Pierce City to cover the cost of the disinterment as a form of reparations, but the town refuses.
When filmmaker Marco Williams speaks to Pierce City Mayor Mark Peters, Peters claims that money can’t heal anything or fix Brown’s hurt. Do you think reparations are an effective way of healing historic wrongs? Why or why not?
A century after its African American residents were driven out of town by a white mob, Harrison, Arkansas is trying to confront its legacy of racism. The town forms a Community Task Force on Race Relations and discusses whether or not actions such as placing a public marker to commemorate the violence against the expelled black community are an adequate form of healing.
During a meeting of the Task Force, members talk about the visibility and effectiveness of erecting a physical marker. Do you think such a monument is “enough”? What about the town’s efforts to create a scholarship for black students or form partnerships with local black churches? What actions do you think would meet the requirements for healing?