In the latest of my weekly Weigelcast interviews, I talk to Rep. James Clyburn, the highest-ranking African-American in Democratic congressional leadership. The impetus for the interview was Clyburn’s new memoir, which covers his life from youth to the civil rights era to the work of a Democratic Congress under the first black president.
But, as always happens, some tape got left on the cutting-room floor. After talking a bit about the legacy of Jim Crow, I asked Clyburn if he’d read Ta-Nehisi Coates’much-praised cover story in the Atlantic, “The Case for Reparations.” He was finishing it up, he said.
“Most people are asked this question and get it wrong,” said Clyburn. “Most people believe that when the former slaves were granted 40 acres and a mule—most people believe they got it. They never got it. Congress, by law in 1872, made sure they never got 40 acres and a mule. That was a part of reparations, so the country has never committed itself to righting the wrongs committed on the slaves. Some, for whatever reason—and there are various and sundry reasons—were successful. Most of it had to do with who their parents were.”
Was there a new need for a legislative or fiscal remedy? “I’ve always said that affirmative action was a form of reparations. I’ve always said that and I believe that. The extent to which the courts have been getting rid of affirmative action was the same reason you had the court in 1872 taking away 40 acres and a mule. There are the forces that line up, get enough votes, and take away these things.”