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5 Times Reparations Were Paid

Reparation. The dictionary definition of reparation is “The making of amends for a wrong one has done, by paying money to or otherwise helping those who have been wronged.” But what about wrongs done by society as a whole? Or wrongs done by our ancestors? Who is then responsible for making amends?

These are questions getting a lot of attention amid protests for racial disparities and police brutality among Black Americans. Systemic racism is alive and well, but how does a nation make reparations for a problem that isn’t yet completely solved? 

X Times Reparations Were Paid

Let’s take a look at 5 of the most notable examples of times when reparations were paid. 

1. The Holocaust

After the Holocaust, West Germany agreed to pay reparations to the state of Israel. Originally, Israeli leaders opposed reparations on the idea that they were forgiving Germany for their wrongdoing. Eventually, the deal went through, however, and it did truly help Israel and its people. 

As of 2012, Germany’s total reparations payments topped $89 billion. Much of this money went to individual survivors, while other funds went into investments in infrastructure and jobs. The result of these reparations was a tremendous amount of growth for the Israeli people, including more than 45,000 jobs and direct payments to survivors. 

2. Japanese Internment

In World War II, 120,000 Japanese Americans were forced to live in internment camps. This resulted in an estimated $3.1 billion in property losses, and $6.4 billion in income loss (2014 dollars). The Japanese-American Claims Act of 1948 and the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 both attempted to make reparations. From 1948 to 1965, more than $38 million was authorized as payment to Japanese Americans. As of 1998, around 80,000 survivors had collected payments. 

3. Forced Sterilization

In the early part of the 20th century, people who were deemed “unfit” were subject to forced sterilization. In 1927, the U.S. Supreme Court made the practice legal, and 33 states adopted it. In total, around 65,000 people were forcibly sterilized between 1927 through the 1970’s, most of them were poor Black women who relied on welfare. The practice wasn’t abolished until 1983. 

A handful of states later apologized for their practices, and only one state – North Carolina – has established a reparations program. In 2013, NC passed a reparations program totaling $10 million. That amount would pay each of the 177 surviving victims around $50,000 each. Some victims, however, say that amount is nowhere near sufficient to repair the injustices done to them. 

4. The Tuskegee Experiment

The Tuskegee Experiment was a study that took place between 1932 and 1972. During the study, 399 Black men with syphilis were intentionally untreated in order for researchers to better learn about the disease. However, informed consent was not collected, and the men were told they were being treated for “bad blood”. In exchange for participating, the men were promised free medical care and meals, and burial insurance. 

In 1943, penicillin was becoming widely used to treat syphilis, but the men participating in the study were not offered this treatment. The men with syphilis experienced incredible health problems, including blindness, mental impairment, and pain. Many died. In 1973, surviving participants and families filed a lawsuit, which resulted in a $10 million settlement. In 1997, President Bill Clinton issued a formal apology. Participants and their immediate families were promised lifelong medical care. 

5. Reparations to Slave Owners

At the height of the Civil War, the U.S. government paid slave owners $300 per slave to set them free. More than 3,100 people were freed, which cost the government around $930,000 (or $25 million in today’s money). The U.S. government did not pay reparations to the people who were freed after years of servitude. Instead, they offered them an incentive for them to permanently leave the U.S. Each former slave was offered $100 if they left the U.S. 

At the time the Civil War ended, there were more than 3.8 million enslaved people in the U.S. Direct descendents of those 3.8 million people represent 50 million Black Americans alive today.  Still, direct descendents of slaves have received little in the way of reparations. Estimates suggest that paying reparations based on wages in the 19th and 19th century plus interest would top around $20 trillion in today’s money. That amount would certainly close the racial wealth gap, and the funds would go to Black descendents of slaves, not slave owners or their descendents. 

It is important to note that while reparations were paid in each of these five examples, such efforts could never come close to resolving the true economic loss these individuals and families suffered, let alone the pain and suffering. Historical accounts prove that reparations are possible and can be successful at aiding those who have been wronged, though it is rare. One can only wonder if there will ever be true reparations for the wrongs our society continues to face today after decades – no centuries – of fighting for equality and freedom. 

Aryan Dev
Internet trailblazer. Travel ninja. Social media evangelist. Incurable explorer. Subtly charming organizer. Tv scholar. Alcohol geek. Certified creator.

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