Support for the Examination of the Institution of Slavery in the United States and Subsequent Discrimination Against African-Americans

Resolution Adopted by the CCAR


Adopted by the Board of Trustees Central Conference of American Rabbi March 30, 2003



The movement for slavery reparations is drawing increased publicity and becoming a major priority on the agenda of the civil rights community. The reparations movement is proceeding on multiple fronts, encompassing legislative, legal, and international efforts to advance the issue: The legislatures of the cities of Evanston (IL), Detroit, Cleveland, Dallas, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and the states of Washington and Michigan have passed resolutions favoring the consideration of reparations as an appropriate measure to rectify the injustice of slavery; In every Congress since 1989, Representative John Conyers (D-MI) has introduced the Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act (H.R. 40); This year, in Brooklyn, four named plaintiffs sued Aetna Life Insurance Corporation, FleetBoston Financial Services, and CSX Incorporated, a railroad giant, in federal court on the grounds that they “knowingly benefited from a system that enslaved, tortured, starved and exploited human beings.” Finally, several countries, including Argentina and South Africa, have established commissions to investigate the injury and harms inflicted during apartheid or periods of military dictatorship. The Reform Jewish Movement has supported the paradigm of reparations as a form of T’shuva in a number of historical cases including: The 1981 UAHC resolution in response to the detainment of 120,000 Japanese-Americans during World War II called upon “Congress [to] assert its moral and constitutional responsibilities to legislate reasonable reparations for Japanese-Americans who were relocated.” This resolution also called upon “constituencies and religious and lay leadership throughout the nation to speak to the conscience of America so that almost forty years of silent injustice can be rectified” (“Reparations for American Citizens of Japanese Descent, ” 1981); The 1952 resolution of the CCAR on Holocaust restitution payments resolved to support “compensation for the enormous cost incurred by Israel and the Jews of the world in saving the remnants of these victims of Nazi terror;” and In 1977, the UAHC, responding to the unjust treatment of Native American Indians in the United States, resolved: “All of the [nutritional, medical, and economic] problems [of the Native Americans] must be seen within the disgraceful context of an American history strewn with broken promises and dishonored treaties.” The Government of the United States from 1789 through 1865 constitutionally and statutorily sanctioned the institution of slavery. Families of slaves were deliberately broken up, and illiteracy was imposed upon the slave population. African-American slaves were never compensated for their wages during their enslavement period, and slave emancipation was followed by more than a hundred years of government-sanctioned segregation that continued to deny the descendants of slaves their constitutional right to equality. Despite these historical facts, the United States has never authorized an examination of this nation’s participation in the enslavement of Africans and the segregation and exploitation of their descendants. There is no nationally designated slavery museum, nor is there a memorial to the millions who perished in the transatlantic slave trade. A comprehensive and searching examination of the history of the African-American people is fundamental to a thorough and deliberative discussion of various reparations proposals. Sufficient inquiry has not been made into the extent to which federal and state governments in the United States supported the institution of slavery and discriminated against African-Americans from the end of the Civil War to the present. Sufficient inquiry has also not been made into the effects of the institution of slavery on contemporary African-Americans and society in the United States. Meanwhile, despite the many years and several generations that separate the African-American community from its enslaved ancestors, today’s African-American community still struggles with inequality. As Jews, with our own history as victims of discrimination, we are particularly sensitive to the plight of all victims of discrimination, and we are cognizant of the dangers that we face in a society where inequity is allowed to persist. In this spirit, and in the pursuit of justice, we are committed to confronting historical wrongs wherever and whenever they occur. THEREFORE, the Central Conference of American Rabbis resolves to: Acknowledge the fundamental injustice and inhumanity of slavery; Support the establishment of a federal commission to: Examine the institution of slavery, subsequent de jure and de facto racial and economic discrimination against African-Americans, and the impact of these forces on contemporary African-Americans; Make recommendations to the Congress on appropriate remedies; and Recommend appropriate ways to educate the American public on the findings of the commission; Support federal, state and local efforts to aid in the acknowledgement and comprehensive exploration of the history of slavery in America, the transatlantic slave trade, and the historical repercussions of these crimes against humanity, including the establishment of a national museum or memorial; and Commit itself, and the larger Reform Movement, to seeking a greater understanding of these historical realities of American society, from which we may more prudently contemplate appropriate mechanisms for righting these tragic wrongs.