The formerly enslaved population of the U.S. was given no land, no property, no money.
They received no restitution for deprivations they had been forced to endure under the “rule of law” – neither have their more than 30 million descendants.
The nation that enacted a Homestead Act in 1862, settling white farmers on frontier land taken from Indigenous people, gave no land to formerly enslaved Black people.
The “rule of law” hypocrisy goes further.
On April 16, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed into law the District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act, calling for $1 million reparations to be paid for emancipated Africans who had been enslaved in the District of Columbia – but the money was to go to the white people who enslaved them, worked them without pay and kept the proceeds from their work.
I have not found proof that the emancipated Africans received a penny. The District of Columbia Emancipation Act also included up to $100,000 to resettle formerly enslaved persons – but the resettlement was to be in Haiti and Liberia, not in the United States.
Under “the rule of law,” millions of formerly enslaved people were left homeless, landless and penniless by the society that sanctioned their enslavement for 246 years.
As if that plight was not sufficiently woeful, the people who enslaved them were restored to land on which they had toiled and produced wealth.
The voting rights guaranteed to formerly enslaved Black men became worthless when state after state passed laws that mocked their emancipation.
One day after the 13th Amendment was ratified to prohibit slavery and involuntary servitude except as punishment for crime, South Carolina enacted a law that required Black “servants” to enter into labor contracts with white “masters” to work from dawn to dusk and to maintain a “polite” demeanor.
Violation of that law – by failing to make such a “contract” or to maintain the required demeanor – subjected the “servants” to criminal sanctions that could result, upon conviction, in the loss of voting rights and return to involuntary servitude.
The “rule of law” made a mockery of the 13th Amendment.
This history is a fraction of the harms, injuries and indignities inflicted upon formerly enslaved Black people according to “the rule of law” in the United States.
Perversely, it is never mentioned when economists, politicians, lawyers, judges and religious leaders discuss wealth inequity in my country.
Instead, white capitalists and their Black sycophants blatantly question the industry and innovativeness of people whose marginalized ancestors designed cities, revolutionized the arts, developed life-saving medical procedures and invented machines that transformed life in countless ways.
The shameless “rule of law” hypocrisy goes even further.
Formerly enslaved Africans in the United States were defrauded of voting rights by various devices. I cherish to this day the 1963 receipt for poll taxes paid by my parents and recall the names and faces of Black people in my rural southwest Arkansas community who picked cotton to make enough money to pay the taxes so our elders could vote.
Now, the descendants of those elders are openly disenfranchised by voter suppression schemes.
Three generations after the U.S. Civil War ended, a season of racial violence occurred in the United States that historians term the Red Summer of 1919. White mobs terrorized and murdered Black neighborhoods at will and without fear of prosecution.
The Red Summer concluded in Arkansas, my home state, near the rural community of Elaine in southeast Arkansas, when hundreds of Black men, women and children were massacred by a white mob and federal troops (who traveled from Little Rock aboard a troop train accompanied by Governor Charles Brough) over the course of several days beginning on Oct. 1, 1919.
No white person was arrested for, or charged with, committing any of the murders, planning the massacre or participating in it. Land, livestock and farm implements that belonged to the massacred people and their terrorized survivors were not restored to their descendants.
The Elaine Race Massacre of 1919 transformed a community of industrious, enterprising and upwardly mobile Black people who owned some of the most fertile land in Arkansas into some of most impoverished people in the United States.
This happened in my home state under “the rule of law.”
To this day, the descendants of massacred, plundered and terrorized Africans have not received restitution or reparation for American slavery and its consequences.
It speaks volumes about the moral and cultural competence of “rule of law” cheerleaders when a travesty of this magnitude has not been addressed by white lawyers, judges, legal scholars, legislators, prosecutors, governors, religious leaders, columnists or other influential leaders.
They will not mention it when talking and writing about the U.N.’s International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.
I will not forget that omission. I will not treat it as inadvertent or mistaken.
I will not be silent about the debt America refuses to pay.
Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series. Part one is available here. This article is part of a series calling attention to the United Nations International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade (March 25).
Pastor at New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, a state court trial judge, a trustee of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, author of one book and three blogs, and a consultant on cultural competency and inclusion.