In honor of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. observance, the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Multicultural Ministry hosted a panel discussion on reparations at the Catholic Enrichment Center, 3146 West Broadway, Jan. 18.
The discussion, which featured four panelists, considered, “What is a reparation? Who deserves it? Why now? And, how do we make it happen?”
Panelists were Raoul Cunningham, president of the Louisville branch of the NAACP; David Lott of the Carl Braden Memorial Center; Father Patrick Delahanty, retired priest of the Archdiocese of Louisville; and Martina Kunnecke, a community activist and historian.
Cunningham noted during the discussion that “reparations are making an amends for a wrong, and there is no doubt slavery was a wrong,” Cunningham said.
The period of enslavement in the U.S., Kunnecke said, was a time where African Americans were “denied access to education, to their own lives, their own children.”
“Certainly we all agree that that group of people deserves some attention. That group of people built the foundation of wealth in this country,” Kunnecke said.
All four panelists acknowledged the difficulty in determining what reparations should look like and who should receive them.
The Catholic Church, including the local church in Louisville, Father Delahanty said, has done little in the way of reparations.
“From the very beginning, we had a history around slavery. We had bishops that owned slaves, religious orders that owned slaves, pastors and parishioners that owned slaves,” he said.
The church, Father Delahanty said, should consider how to “repair and reconcile the damage done and the sin committed.”
He cited a statement issued by the United Nations in 2016 which called the transatlantic slave trade and the period of enslavement in the United States a “crime against humanity.”
The U.N. statement said, “There is a profound need to acknowledge that the transatlantic trade in Africans, enslavement, colonization and colonialism were a crime against humanity and are among the major sources and manifestations of racism, racial discrimination, Afrophobia, xenophobia and related intolerance.”
Schools, the panelists agreed, should include curriculum that accurately presents the history of slavery in the U.S. and its repercussions, including Jim Crow laws, inadequate education and mass incarceration among other topics. Current curriculum, Father Delahanty said, lacks a full picture of what actually took place since the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in 1619.
Kunnecke also called for the rebuilding of black communities in Louisville, particularly in the West End.
“Reparation to me looks like rebuilding our communities and genuinely empowering people in the communities to allow them to reach a new level of self-determination.
“If we raise our own boats, we can raise the boats of so many and it’s going to be the first step toward true self-determination in the black community,” she said.
Cunningham asked those gathered to contact Congressman John Yarmuth and Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul. He suggested urging them to consider proposed legislation that would create a federal “Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans.”