Civil War & Reconstruction expert, Eric Foner, discusses the history of freedom, and the case for reparations today.
Laura Flanders:One of things that was so revolutionary and remarkable was the decision not to compensate the slave owners. But there was not the decision to compensate the slaves, the enslaved people. That continues to resonate today.
Eric Foner:It does. Of course. The famous phrase, forty acres and a mule. African-Americans demanded land. One historian once wrote, I think this is true, the political revolution went forward but the economic revolution was stymied. Yes, although Lincoln actually did favor giving some compensation to the former slave owners, congress, the cabinet, they all rejected that. The liquidation of that immense amount of property. Slaves were human beings, but they also were property, and they represented by far the largest concentration of property in the country, and that was just liquidated. No compensation, no payment, nothing. That's a pretty radical act. Almost all the other emancipations in the western hemisphere, the owners got compensation. Not here.
Laura Flanders: France and Haiti.
Eric Foner: Haiti. Even Haiti had to pay reparations to France for over a hundred years. Not here. That was a significant shift.
Laura Flanders: What happened then to that demand? You hear it discussed. Ta-Nehisi Coates' article about reparations got the kind of attention it did because I think it's still such a potent demand, but what has happened to the connection between political power and economic power?
Eric Foner: That's where reconstruction is such a critical point also because you might almost say that that's where those things went, separated. That political equality went down one road, but economic equality did not. In other words, the country adopted the idea that you can have political equality without economic equality...