History of reparations

A timeline of the movement for Black Liberation


bipoc friends at concert

The 1619 Project, the groundbreaking initiative published by The New York Times Magazine in 2019 and spearheaded by Nicole Hanah-Jones, opens with the lines, “In August of 1619, a ship appeared on this horizon, near Point Comfort, a coastal port in the English colony of Virginia. It carried more than 20 enslaved Africans sold to the colonists. No aspect of the country that would be formed here has been untouched by the years of slavery that followed.” By 1770, over 460,000 enslaved Africans populated the colonies, one-fifth of the total colonial population, and by 1860, less than 100 years after the United States had formally became a nation, the 1860 census listed 3,953,760 people as enslaved.Historians like Michael Guasco, who authored Slaves and Englishmen: Human Bondage in the Early Modern Atlantic World,  have noted that the first example that we have of slavery in what would become the United States could be traced back to 1526 with the Spanish in the region we now call South Carolina. 

As Guasco noted in an interview with History.com, “people of African descent have been ‘here’ longer than the English colonies.” While the date 1619 marks a significant point in Anglo-colonial history, the “Spanish, Portuguese and English were co-conspirators in what we would now consider a crime against humanity,” according to Guasco. The history of human bondage is long and complex, with many faces and iterations across different national, political, and social contexts. Guasco notes in Slaves and Englishmen, “if we focus our gaze too narrowly on the period after 1660 – or 1619, for that matter – we might mistakenly assume that slavery was unimportant before it manifested itself in familiar fashion.” 

Our timeline acknowledges the deep and complex history of human bondage, the history of the European-spearheaded trans-Atlantic slave trade, and Africans who were held in bondage before 1619. In the Lab, we conducted a mapping activity facilitated by historian Dr. Mary Frances Berry, Dr. Akinyele Umoja, and Makani Themba. Across the map, we identified significant historical, political, cultural, and economic events and acts of resistance within the context of Black lives in this nation. This timeline aims to place the movement for reparations, arguably one of the oldest movements in this country, within the broader context of the march toward Black liberation.


“The year 1619 is as important to the American story as 1776.” - Nikole Hanah-Jones


“For a colonized people, the most essential value, because the most concrete, is first and foremost the land: the land which will bring them bread, and, above all, dignity.” - Frantz Fanon


“The John Punch case is further evidence that slavery existed for Africans long before the term ever reached the statute books.” - Randolph M. McLaughlin


“The role of hereditary racial slavery in consolidating modern economic systems has been either overlooked or misplaced as marginal to the core text of early modern economic formations.” - Jennifer Morgan


“There was one of two things I had a right to – liberty or death. If I could not have one, I would have the other.” - Harriet Tubman


“The petition shows that even during enslavement, some legal bodies recognized the justice of reparations for unpaid labor and unjust enrichment as a crime against humanity.” - Ray Winbush


I want Liberty and Equality to reign in San Domingo. I work to bring them into existence. Unite yourselves to us, brothers, and fight with us for the same cause.” - Toussaint L’Ourverture


“The Black Church has influenced nearly every chapter of the African American story, and it continues to animate Black identity today, both for believers and nonbelievers.” - Henry Louis Gates Jr.


“Think how many tears you have poured out upon the soil which you have cultivated with unrequited toil and enriched with your blood; and then go to your lordly enslavers and tell them plainly that you are determined to be free.” - Henry Highland Garnet


“All I ask of the American people is that they live up to the Constitution, adopt its principles, imbibe its spirit, and enforce its provisions. When this is done, the wounds of my bleeding people will be healed, the chain will no longer rust on their ankles, their backs will no longer be torn by the bloody lash, and liberty, the glorious birthright of our common humanity, will become the inheritance of all the inhabitants of this highly favored country.” - Frederick Douglass


“That is the story of this country, the story that has brought me to this stage tonight, the story of generations of people who felt the lash of bondage, the shame of servitude, the sting of segregation, but who kept on striving and hoping and doing what needed to be done so that today I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves. And I watch my daughters, two beautiful, intelligent, black young women playing with their dogs on the White House lawn.” - Michelle Obama


"The slave went free; stood a brief moment in the sun; then moved back again toward slavery." - W.E.B. DuBois


“Twice enslaved and twice freed, Wood knew how easily a doom could follow dawn.” - William Caleb McDaniel


“​​The only thing can be is an inherent determination that the people who were formerly in slavery, regardless of anything else, shall be kept as near that stage as is possible, and now is the time, we submit, that this Court should make it clear that that is not what our Constitution stands for.” - Thurgood Marshall


“We are organizing ourselves together as a race of people who feel that they have been wronged.” - Callie House


I cannot help wondering sometimes what I might have become and might have done if I had lived in a country which had not circumscribed and handicapped me on account of my race, that had allowed me to reach any height I was able to attain." - Mary Church Terrell


“The Great Fire is going to burn the city they built / and we will watch from the stone tower / and we will wait for it to finish / and we can wait a long time / and the Fire can too.” - Eve Ewing


“Please, do not let me leave this Earth without justice, like all the other massacre survivors.” - Hughes Van Ellis


“Most of our people don’t know who they are. They don’t know they think in European. They don’t have a mind of their own. They got to get their right mind back.” - Audley (Queen Mother) Moore


“We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” - Martin Luther King Jr.


“This revolution isn’t designed to avoid, to reform or to collaborate with white supremacy and imperialism but to destroy these evils.” - Chokwe Lumumba


“We recognize that in issuing this manifesto we must prepare for a long range educational campaign in all communities of this country, but we know that the Christian churches have contributed to our oppression in white America.” - The Black Manifesto


“To see reparations as only a remedy for the wrongs of slavery is to not only weaken the ability to build the movement, it is a fiction that supports blaming us totally for our current status in the United States.” - Adjoa A. Aiyetoro


“On behalf of the federal government, President Ronald Reagan gave the entire Japanese American population a meaningful apology. In that one act alone, we learned that our democracy is resilient enough to right a wrong.” - Norman Y. Mineta


“ In January 1989, I first introduced the bill H.R. 40, Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act. I have re-introduced HR 40 every Congress since 1989 and will continue to do so until it’s passed into law.” - Rep. John Conyers


“During my lifetime, I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” - Nelson Mandela


“I will say for me, as a descendant and a grandchild, I’m grateful because it was able to help me finish my degree, and, as a single parent, it allowed me to send two more to school.” - Natasha Twiggs


“I am human because you are human. My humanity is caught up in yours. If you are dehumanized, then I am dehumanized.” - Desmond Tutu


“The pain was unimaginable. Of all the possibilities, I could not conceive that something as ordinary as a walk from the local 7-Eleven would end in my son’s death.” - Sybrina Fulton


“Reparations would mean a revolution of the American consciousness, a reconciling of our self-image as the great democratizer with the facts of our history.” - Ta-Nehisi Coates


Our stories need to be told. This curriculum needs to be taught because people need to know what happened.” - Gregory Banks


“We decided to take this first step. Not perfect, not complete, certainly a first step, but we said yes to reparations, and yes to repair.” - Robin Rue Simmons


“Daddy changed the world.” - Gianna Floyd


“The effects of 400 years of compounding governmental and private acts of racial violence and discrimination described in this report have resulted in disparities between African American and white Californians in almost every corner of life.” - California Reparations Taskforce