Obama At Odds With Black Leaders Over Slavery Reparations

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) -- Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama opposes offering reparations to the descendants of slaves, putting him at odds with some black groups and leaders.

The man with a serious chance to become the nation's first black president argues that government should instead combat the legacy of slavery by improving schools, health care and the economy for all.

"I have said in the past - and I'll repeat again - that the best reparations we can provide are good schools in the inner city and jobs for people who are unemployed," the Illinois Democrat said recently.

Some two dozen members of Congress are co-sponsors of legislation to create a commission that would study reparations - that is, payments and programs to make up for the damage done by slavery.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People supports the legislation, too. Cities around the country, including Obama's home of Chicago, have endorsed the idea, and so has a major union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Obama has worked to be seen as someone who will bring people together, not divide them into various interest groups with checklists of demands. Supporting reparations could undermine that image and make him appear to be pandering to black voters.

"Let's not be naive. Sen. Obama is running for president of the United States, and so he is in a constant battle to save his political life," said Kibibi Tyehimba, co-chair of the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America. "In light of the demographics of this country, I don't think it's realistic to expect him to do anything other than what he's done."

But this is not a position Obama adopted just for the presidential campaign. He voiced the same concerns about reparations during his successful run for the Senate in 2004.

There's enough flexibility in the term "reparations" that Obama can oppose them and still have plenty of common ground with supporters.

The NAACP says reparations could take the form of government programs to help struggling people of all races. Efforts to improve schools in the inner city could also aid students in the mountains of West Virginia, said Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP's Washington bureau.

"The solution could be broad and sweeping," Shelton said.

The National Urban League - a group Obama is to address Saturday - avoids the word "reparations" as too vague and highly charged. But the group advocates government action to close the gaps between white America and black America.

Urban League President Marc Morial said he expects his members to press Obama on how he intends to close those gaps and what action he would take in the first 100 days of his presidency.

"What steps should we take as a nation to alleviate the effects of racial exclusion and racial discrimination?" Morial asked.

The House voted this week to apologize for slavery. The resolution, which was approved on a voice vote, does not mention reparations, but past opponents have argued that an apology would increase pressure for concrete action.

Obama says an apology would be appropriate but not particularly helpful in improving the lives of black Americans. Reparations could also be a distraction, he said.

In a 2004 questionnaire, he told the NAACP, "I fear that reparations would be an excuse for some to say, 'We've paid our debt,' and to avoid the much harder work."

Taking questions Sunday at a conference of minority journalists, Obama said he would be willing to talk to American Indian leaders about an apology for the nation's treatment of their people.

Pressed for his position on apologizing to blacks or offering reparations, Obama said he was more interested in taking action to help people struggling to get by. Because many of them are minorities, he said, that would help the same people who would stand to benefit from reparations.

"If we have a program, for example, of universal health care, that will disproportionately affect people of color, because they're disproportionately uninsured," Obama said. "If we've got an agenda that says every child in America should get - should be able to go to college, regardless of income, that will disproportionately affect people of color, because it's oftentimes our children who can't afford to go to college."

One reparations advocate, Vernellia Randall, a law professor at the University of Dayton, bluntly responded: "I think he's dead wrong."

She said aid to the poor in general won't close the gaps - poor blacks would still trail poor whites, and middle-class blacks would still lag behind middle-class whites. Instead, assistance must be aimed directly at the people facing the after-effects of slavery and Jim Crow laws, she said.

"People say he can't run and get elected if he says those kinds of things," Randall said. "I'm like, well does that mean we're really not ready for a black president?"

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  • by Ted Location: Greenville on Aug 4, 2008 at 03:46 PM
    You make a good point Law. If reparations ever happen maybe the descendants of US slave owners could get their money back from the Dutch.
  • by law Location: williamston on Aug 4, 2008 at 11:24 AM
    why should the US have to pay for this, the africans sold their own (slaves) to the people that would buy them, blk and white/to give them the opportunity for a better way of life....to be able to eat..their own didnt want them, to feed them, to take care of them etc. so they sold them and shipped them out as not to be burdened.....get a job...not a handout!!
  • by Tracy Location: NB on Aug 4, 2008 at 07:26 AM
    The black people contradict themselves. They want to be treated as equals yet they keep screaming for special rights. It seems to me that once you receive special rights that you are no longer equal. If you want to be treated as an equal, then get a job and start paying your own way just like the rest of us working class. My husband and I both work and still wonder how we are going to get by some months. But we don't go whining to the goverment, we just work a little harder and budget a little more. Blacks need to stop blaming their problems on everybody else and take responsibility for themselves. If you can't feed 'em, don't breed 'em!
  • by VBush Location: MHCY on Aug 4, 2008 at 07:03 AM
    I have often wondered how the black vote became so entrenched in the Democratic Party to begin with. It was the Republicans that authored and passed the original Civil Rights Act in 1875. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was staunchly opposed by Democrats most fiercely by Robert Byrd of West Virginia who is still in office today. At what point did black people decide that the Republicans were bad for them? I am curious to know if anyone can answer that question.
  • by Tim Location: La Grange on Aug 3, 2008 at 09:56 PM
    I fear for this country.
  • by Cactus Location: Strabane, NC on Aug 3, 2008 at 06:25 PM
    Seems that black leaders think Obama is the salve needed to doctor all their real and preceived ills.
  • by Me Location: Greenville on Aug 3, 2008 at 02:42 PM
    Some people continue to look for creative ways for a handout. Drive through this City Mon - Fri 8 AM to 5 PM and see all the able body young adults (16 - 28 or older) who are just hanging out on the street corners and on porches doing nothing. Most are getting a check and the others are engaging in criminal activity. As a matter of fact...pick a day any day.
  • by Fact Location: Eastern NC on Aug 3, 2008 at 12:50 PM
    To: My pinion, If they had to buy the 30 cans @ 13.00 each, they couldn't make the Escalade payment. The liberals are the ones that keep bringing this and other race related issues to the lime light. That is the platform of the party. That is how they are allowed to exist. They need the people to think 'one needs' the democrats. The democratic party today would not exist without the needs of the uneducated and uninformed.(This includes all races). If these people actually understood what was going on, and how little the party has ACTUALLY done for them it would be the end of the Democrats as we know them. Would the likes of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have the prominence they have? Absolutely not, they would have had to get a regular job. They have become extremely wealthy on the 'back' of turmoil. They even create turmoil where there is none. Obama himself has even injected race into the election. He attempted to do it diplomatically, but he did it none the less.
  • by my opinion Location: nc on Aug 3, 2008 at 06:51 AM
    exactly matt... and it ticks me off to no end to see people complaining about having to buy 2 cans of formula for thier baby cause WIC didn't get them enough - and driving around in Escalades... they should try buying 30 cans a month at 13.00 a can then talk about money issues..
  • by Matt Location: NC on Aug 2, 2008 at 10:18 PM
    Hey, I had people who were slaves once. Who hasn't! To be honest with you I feel like a slave now. Paying way too much in taxes for welfare, smart start, low income housing etc. All of which is NOT working like the people who recieve it. Just go in a Wal-mart store on the 1st thru the 5th to see this sorry crowd. Most of them look pretty healthy and able to work to me. I'm voting McCain.
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