Ask the Scholars

Interviews from 2003

Question 45
Are reparations for slavery appropriate?
John Cheng


It would probably be useful to list some of the complications or arguments against reparations, simply because people may not be aware of what issues are involved. How do you determine who the descendants of slaves are? Which descendants qualify? What about the highly controversial possibility that there would be any number of people who now identify as white suddenly discovering that they have some sort of ancestral descendant back to a slave? There are all sort of political consequence...

David Freund


African Americans have been saying that this is a legitimate right of theirs since Emancipation. There's this famous, eloquent letter composed by a freedman named Jourdon, when his former master asked him, just after Emancipation, to come back and work as a paid laborer on the plantation. To oversimplify his response, he said basically, "Look, I've been doing your work for a long time. I think you should pay me for the labor I performed for 32 years, then I'll come back and work for you....

Sumi Cho

Legal Scholar

I think reparations are entirely appropriate. There's legal support for this under the principle of restitution; that is, where someone profits from wrongdoing, principles of equity demand that the law disgorges those profits that are accumulated from this ill-gotten gain. We've seen it historically in this country with reparations for Japanese Americans for their wartime internment by the U.S. government, and we are seeing it also globally with regards to demands for reparations for vic...