Paid In Full: The Shocking Truth Behind Reparations

people harvesting crops painting

Similar to Lucy convincing Charlie Brown that she’ll hold the football steady for a satisfying kick, politicians every four years seek to persuade black voters of their support for reparations. Once in office, the newly appointed official, much like Lucy’s familiar routine, disappoints black voters by retracting support at a crucial moment, reminiscent of Charlie Brown’s repeated misfortune of missing the football and ending up flat on his back.

As the next election cycle looms, Democratic candidates and their media allies once again focus on reparations, giving hope and a promise to black Americans that amends will be made for the wrongs done. Through his influential perspective, the author and activist Ta-Nehisi Coates has strengthened the case for reparations over the past ten years.

In June 2014, Ta-Nehisi Coates rose to prominence for his essay “The Case for Reparations,” which was featured in The Atlantic. His article reignited cultural discourse, arguing that U.S. wealth was built on enslaved Africans’ exploitation. He further highlighted how post-slavery Jim Crow laws deepened economic, educational, and social gaps between black and white Americans. Finally, Coates addressed housing discrimination, predatory lending, and redlining’s impact on black communities. According to Coates, these factors collectively warranted a demand for reparations, underscoring the necessity of federal intervention.

While Coates’ arguments for reparations appear compelling initially, the matter is not so clear-cut. We need to consider additional factors post-slavery when assessing the government’s treatment of enslaved Africans and their progeny. Advocates for reparations may disagree, but I hold a different view.

In my view, assigning a monetary value to the abhorrent practice of slavery may be an insurmountable challenge. However, a discerning examination of history reveals that the U.S. federal government has made greater efforts to address this issue and satisfy its debt than any other government in the history of the world. As it pertains to money and materials as reparations owed to black descendants of slavery, the United States government’s ledger should unequivocally read, “paid in full.”

Slavery By The Numbers

Explaining the global spread of slavery, economist and author Thomas Sowell uncovers this issue in his book “Black Rednecks and White Liberals,” writing,

“Despite widespread misconceptions in the United States today that the institution of slavery was based on race, for most of the thousands of years in which slavery existed around the world, it was based on whoever was vulnerable to enslavement and within striking distance. Thus, Europeans enslaved other Europeans, just as Asians enslaved other Asians and Africans enslaved other Africans.”

Sowell, T. (2009). Black Rednecks & White Liberals. Encounter Books.

While acknowledging slavery as a global practice doesn’t lessen its inhumane brutality, it instead highlights the notion that slavery primarily exploited vulnerability rather than ethnicity. Transatlantic voyages began in the 15th century, coinciding with a new approach to the slave trade: transporting vulnerable individuals to distant lands.

From the 15th to the 19th centuries, transatlantic slavery involved the trafficking of 12.5 million people. Captured by fellow Africans, these people were sold and transported from Africa to regions like the Caribbean, the United States, the mainland Americas under Spanish rule, and Europe. Brazil received the largest share of slaves, with 3.5 million slaves delivered to Brazilian shores. Approximately 388,000 to 450,000 were eventually brought to the United States.

Defining Reparations

Estimates vary, but it is widely believed that around 4.4 million enslaved Africans were in the United States at the onset of the Civil War in 1861. The journey to freedom after the Civil War was arduous. It encompassed milestones like the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing the slaves, and the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, which abolished slavery, granted citizenship, and bestowed voting rights upon black Americans.

The ongoing fight against segregation and discrimination is deeply entwined in American history, prompting reflection on reparations due to the sensitive nature of this historical narrative. While reparations are not new, today’s leading advocate for this policy is the National African American Reparations Commission (NAARC).

Established in 2015, the NAARC agrees that reparations are crucial for healing and restoring groups harmed due to violations of ethnic identity and human rights by governments or corporations. Advocates stress that applying reparations to individuals enslaved or the descendants of slavery is paramount to healing. This is a point to remember as we proceed.

Counting the Cost of Reparations

Analyzing slavery’s history reveals its brutality. Today’s focus is on reparations to address its lasting impact. The NAARC, under the direction of Justice Patrick Robinson, serves as the American movement for reparations. In his report, presented in 2023, Robinson proposes $26.79 trillion for the healing and restoration of affected groups, plus $10.214 trillion for post-slavery injustices like Jim Crow and segregation. Furthermore, Robinson places the total owed globally to slavery at $107.8 trillion, plus $23 trillion for post-slavery impacts. Strangely, the report makes no mention of any debt that African countries that owned and traded slaves owed.

The reparations debate is not about rectifying past injustices. Instead, it’s about leveraging reparations as an emotional cudgel to manipulate blacks into placing their individual power in the hands of a select few.

To place Robinson’s U.S. and global reparations figures into perspective, let’s consider the 2022 U.S. and global GDP, which are $25.46 trillion and $100 trillion, respectively. Not to mention the current U.S. debt in 2024 is $34 trillion.

Reparations: A Powerful Tool or a Dangerous Drug?

An intriguing point to consider is that while the NAARC stresses the importance of reparations for descendants of slavery, rather than individual reparations checks, they propose a financial repository over direct government checks. When asked about direct payments to individuals, the NAARC suggests,

“Individual payments as reparations are, for the most part, unfeasible, implausible, naïve, and in many instances, downright reactionary. The proponents of this individualized approach are articulating a black version of white nativism, a kind of black anti-immigration xenophobia. This approach will do little to close the racial wealth gap and will, instead, exacerbate income inequalities within black communities.”

Reparations Resources – National African American Reparations Commission (NAARC). (2023, November 13).

In essence, the desire for individual compensation, according to the NAARC, stems from the influence of white individualism. So, according to the leading organization on reparations, your pain is no longer just yours; it is shared collectively and should be addressed as such. The organization has justified this stance by stating,

“The National African American Reparations Commission (NAARC) prefers a collective, community-based approach to reparations payments, one that is workable, plannable, accountable, and executed fairly and equitably… Therefore, we renew the call for a National Reparations Trust Authority to be the repository, custodian, and administrative body to receive monetary and material resources allocated by offending parties as restitution to repair the damages inflicted on the sons and daughters of Africans in America during centuries of oppression and exploitation.”

Reparations Resources – National African American Reparations Commission (NAARC). (2023, November 13).

So, rather than you, dear black person, getting a check, the National African American Reparation Commission will graciously oversee your funds, ensuring your fair treatment. As you can see, in their own words, this highly influential organization does not prioritize the welfare of the general populace above its greedy agenda. Instead, as the powerful have done historically, the NAARC aims to establish their own entity where their friends and acquaintances can freely take full advantage of your so-called reparations while expanding their newfound wealth.

The reparations debate is not about rectifying past injustices. Instead, it’s about leveraging reparations as an emotional cudgel to manipulate blacks into placing their individual power in the hands of a select few. If this doesn’t ring the bell of past black exploitation, I don’t know what does.

The Cost of Ending Slavery

As organizations like the NAARC delve into the costs of reparations to the black community, there is a notable absence in the examination of the sacrifices made to abolish slavery. The United States stands alone in ending slavery through a civil war. About 620,000 lives were lost, with 360,222 soldiers from the North losing their lives in battle to end slavery. Historians have differing views on the war’s purpose, but the result was that the emancipation of slaves was costly and paid for in blood.

In 1890, 80% of children were raised in two-parent households. Presently, 28% of children are born into two-parent households, and single-parent households account for 72% of the black community.

Despite the tragic loss of human lives, the price of war remains a significant yet often overlooked aspect that deserves careful consideration. From 1789, when George Washington took office, to 1860, before the Civil War, the national debt was $65 million. By the war’s end, the national debt had skyrocketed to $2.2 billion, equivalent to $41 billion in 2023.

The Promise of Land and Treasure

After the Civil War, Union General William T. Sherman issued Special Order 15, granting confiscated Confederate land to freed slaves. This 400,000-acre area from Charleston, South Carolina, to the Saint John River in Florida, initially approved by President Abraham Lincoln, was known as the “40 acres and a mule” promise. However, President Andrew Johnson, Lincoln’s democratic successor, overturned this commitment after Lincoln’s assassination.

Although Sherman’s anticipated Special Order did not come to fruition, the Radical Republicans, renowned for their anti-slavery stance and support for civil rights, enacted the Southern Homestead Act of 1866. This legislation safeguarded 46 million acres of public land for freed blacks and others across various states, including Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Florida. While well-intentioned, this initiative faced challenges. Most public land was densely forested, requiring extensive resources for conversion to farmland. A barrier for blacks in the South was their inability to procure land because of a mere five-dollar fee, coupled with insufficient resources to cultivate the land. Additionally, many encountered violent opposition from white southerners. In the end, only 6,000 blacks (36,000 with families) benefited from the Southern Homestead Act.

From Poverty to Prosperity

While helpful to some, the Homestead Act of 1866 didn’t completely meet the needs of the four million remaining slaves. This prompted further federal actions to address injustices in post-slavery America. Predating the Civil Rights Acts of 1964, Congress enacted the Civil Rights Acts of 1870, 1871, and 1875. These laws, also called enforcement acts, aimed to safeguard voting rights, combat the Ku Klux Klan’s intimidation, and ensure equal access to public and private facilities. However, on October 15, 1883, the Supreme Court struck down the 1875 Act, deeming it an unconstitutional overstep in protecting blacks from personal and private discrimination.

Although the Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) was a backward step, the Court advanced equality with landmark cases like Brown v. Board of Education (1954), Browder v. Gayle (1956), and Loving v. Virginia (1967).

Amidst the hurdles faced by black people, much like other ethnic minorities navigating a dominant culture, tales of triumph emerge. There were those who emerged from slavery to become the first post-slavery millionaires: Robert Gordon (1812–1844), Bridget “Biddy” Mason (1818–1891), Madam C.J. Walker (1867–1919), Ottaway O.W. Gurley (1868–1935), and Mary Ellen Pleasant (1815–1904).

There were those who were pioneering inventors: Thomas Jennings (1791–1859) with dry cleaning; Garrett Morgan (1877–1963) for the gas mask and traffic signal; George Washington Carver (1864–1943) with 300 peanut innovations; Frederick McKinley Jones (1893–1961) with modernizing refrigeration; and Alexander Miles (1838–1918) with elevator door enhancements.

There were those who were the first educators, like Booker T. Washington (1856–1915), Susie King Taylor (1848–1922), Kelly Miller (1863–1939), W.E.B. Du Bois (1868–1963), and Mary McLeod Bethune (1875–1955).

The stories of these trailblazing pioneers conquering significant obstacles demonstrate that success could be achieved independently of reparations or government involvement.

Then to Now

In addition to these pioneers, between 1890 and 1950, this period witnessed the most significant reduction in the wealth disparity between blacks and whites. All of this was accomplished despite prevalent racism. Remarkably, during this period, black communities exhibited stronger familial structures, lower rates of out-of-wedlock births, substantial poverty alleviation, improved literacy rates, and greater moral resilience in the immediate aftermath of slavery compared to the years following the civil rights era. 

A primary example can be seen in two-parent households. In 1890, 80% of children were raised in two-parent households, and this figure was stable through 1950. This is evidence that family stability prevailed—evidence that slavery, black codes, segregation, and Jim Crow failed to break apart black families. However, presently, only 28% of children are born into two-parent households, with single-parent households accounting for 72% of the black community. This is evidence that, through implementing government programs (a form of reparations), we can witness the decimation of the family within the last 50 years.

In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society programs took center stage. Johnson’s War on Poverty, partly influenced by the Moynihan Report titled “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” was explicitly aimed at addressing poverty, which disproportionately affected the black community. While not an outright failure, reviews of the program remain mixed after 50 years and $22 trillion in taxpayer funds expended since its inception. The prevailing sentiment among many is that further action is required, often entailing increased financial investment. Regardless of the program in question, advocates for reparations persist in voicing their discontent. Why? Because the money is never enough.

A Biblical Examination of Reparations

When reflecting on the atrocities of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, we must confront the deplorable inhumanity ingrained in the individuals perpetuating the cycle, from the capturing (by black Africans) to the selling (by both blacks and whites) and the brutal oppression of slaves on foreign shores (by whites and others). We should all be equally outraged by what occurred during this time in history.

Throughout history, humanity has often showcased a proclivity toward evil. The initial disobedience of Adam and Eve to God’s decrees (Genesis 3), Cain’s ruthless act of fratricide (Genesis 4), Sarah’s expulsion of Hagar (Genesis 21), Jacob’s deceptive acquisition of his brother’s birthright (Genesis 27), and the treachery of Joseph’s brothers, who sold him into slavery (Genesis 37), all serve as poignant examples of this dark inclination.

As we consider the wickedness of the human heart, some would say, “But isn’t God to blame for slavery? Isn’t the institution of slavery condoned in Scripture?”

The Bible does not endorse chattel slavery. In the same way that God gives guidance on divorce, a practice He disapproves of (Malachi 2:16) due to its harm to the covenant between a man and a woman, He recognizes that divorce occurs because of human hardness. Thus, guidelines provide instructions to minimize harm and are not requirements or justifications for immoral actions. In the instance of divorce, there are two instructions for the action—namely, sexual immorality (Matthew 5:32) and desertion by an unbelieving spouse (1 Corinthians 7:15).

Similarly, in the instance of slavery, God offered instructions on how such situations should be managed. For context, it’s imperative to understand the nature of slavery in the Old Testament. When we hear the word slavery, we often only imagine the slavery associated with the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

However, in the Old Testament, the Hebrew word used for a slave is עבד (“eved” or “ebed”). The term is referenced over 800 times and can be interpreted as servant, bondservant, laborer, or companion. The concept conveyed resembles various forms of indentured servitude or capture following conflicts (such as Israel in Egypt). However, it’s crucial to note that this would not be used to endorse the type of chattel slavery seen during the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Based on God’s law, the death penalty was the punishment for the act of capturing and selling people as slaves. “Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him, shall be put to death” (Exodus 21:16).

Historically, slave owners often twisted the Bible to justify their wicked acts. This does not make God responsible for the actions of evil men.

Similarly, while white men participated in the slave trade and used ethnic hatred to oppress based on skin color, it’s crucial to recognize that present-day white individuals shouldn’t bear collective guilt for past transgressions (Ezekiel 18:20). Remember, black men also played a part in capturing slaves of their own race.

When we understand the nature of human depravity, we will realize our need for redemption through the finished work of Jesus Christ. There’s a parable told by Jesus that comes to mind as I think about slavery, particularly as it relates to reparations. The account begins with Peter asking about forgiveness. Peter says, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:21–22).

Next, Jesus explains,

“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went, and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

Matthew 18:23–35 ESV

The last sentence in the parable is sobering. While it’s crucial not to overlook the impact of slavery, it’s worth considering the moral guidance of Jesus before demanding reparations from those who weren’t directly involved in historical wrongs. Promoting victimhood will prove to be of great detriment to future generations, and the current reparations debate only adds to this dilemma.

Recognizing the eternal debt we owe to God and acknowledging that another has settled it may open our eyes to the power of forgiveness. Considering this, I posit that those forgiven much, in turn, extend forgiveness generously. Hence, I contend that the debt owed to current generations of slave descendants has been completely paid in full.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Author people harvesting crops painting

Virgil Walker

Vice President of Ministry Relations G3 Ministries

Virgil L. Walker is the Vice President of Ministry Relations for G3 Ministries, an author and conference speaker. His books include Just Thinking About the State, Just Thinking About Ethnicityand Why Are You Afraid? He co-hosts the Just Thinking Podcast with Darrell Harrison and is a weekly contributor to Fearless with Jason Whitlock on the Blaze Media platform. Virgil has a Master of Business Administration and a Master of Theological Studies from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Virgil and his wife, Tomeka, have three children. Listen to his podcast here.