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Who Gets How Much: Big Questions About Reparations for Slavery

A small city agreed almost unanimously that restitution was called for. Then the arguments began in earnest  

A suburb in Chicago is set to become the first place in the United States to provide reparations to its Black residents, with a plan to distribute $10 million over the next decade.

A suburb in Chicago is set to become the first place in the United States to provide reparations to its Black residents, with a plan to distribute $10 million over the next decade.

Photographer:  Kamil Krzaczynski/AFP/Getty Images

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Reparations for slavery has been a controversial idea in the U.S. from the start. William Tecumseh Sherman’s promise of 40 acres (the mule came later) for the formerly enslaved was never fulfilled. In the early 1900s, a campaign for pensions seemed so preposterous and threatening to the power structure in Washington, that it labeled the entire effort fraudulent. One hundred years later, the country is still debating whether and how to consider reparations. But now, after a summer of unrest and the reckoning that’s followed, during a pandemic that’s laid bare enduring racial disparities, and with a president who’s willing to consider what the U.S. might owe African Americans, advocates heave reasons to be hopeful.

Late Wednesday night, the House Judiciary Committee voted 25-17 to advance a bill to study the effects of slavery and discrimination—and recommend remedies. It's the first time the full Congress will consider the measure, H.R. 40, which has been introduced in every session since the late 1980s.  

“This legislation is long overdue,” Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, a New York Democrat, said. “Even long after slavery was abolished, the anti-Black racism that undergirded it reflected and defined part of our nation’s attitudes, shaping its policies and institutions.”

Episode 6 of the Pay Check, the Bloomberg News podcast about the racial wealth gap in America, looks at the idea of reparations—what it would mean, what it could cost and how it might look, at least at a local level.