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'Now is the time for Black repair': What might reparations look like in Kansas City?

Anna Spoerre, The Kansas City Star on

Published in News & Features

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Mickey Dean hears the argument often, particularly from white Kansas Citians, when he mentions Black reparations: “You weren’t a slave and my family didn’t own any slaves, so that’s in the past and why are we still talking about that?”

He gets the questions more frequently now that the Kansas City Council approved a commission to study reparations locally. So he’s on a mission to educate people on the topic, an increasingly popular one across the country.

Yes, reparations is about what’s owed in exchange for the free labor of slavery from which white people made millions in profits. But it’s about what happened after slavery too, he says. Reconstruction without repair to Black lives, Jim Crow laws that legalized racial segregation, Plessy v. Ferguson and segregation. Laws that shut out Black Americans from basic rights.

“It’s just amazing the way Black people have been disenfranchised,” said Dean, who co-founded the Kansas City Reparations Coalition, a group made up of representatives from numerous local organizations which helped draft the initial reparations ordinance in Kansas City.

The creation of a commission does not guarantee reparations will happen in Kansas City. But it is the intention.

The group, yet to be chosen by Mayor Quinton Lucas, will study the harm done to Black Kansas Citians across five areas: health, wealth, homeownership, criminal justice and educational outcomes.


“We’re saying now is the time for Black repair,” said Rev. Vernon Howard, President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

What’s not yet been determined is what that repair will look like, even if it does in fact happen.

How far back do reparations go?

The birth of Black reparations in America arrived on Jan. 16, 1865, when Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman promised 40 acres and then a mule to freed former slaves. That order — Special Field Orders No. 15 — was overturned by President Andrew Johnson a few months later, after President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.


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