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Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Learning from the Past
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Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Learning from the Past

As locals look upon the Old Town Theater, soon to become another chain retail shop, its once grand features now but photographs and memories, in an Old Town tourist mecca whose trump cards are history and art, but with no major publicly owned dedicated cinematic/theatric space, one wonders why there wasn't even a critical mass of interest in the city government acquiring this venerable property. Instead, City Hall, abetted by the state capital's new liberal trifecta, is poised to bail out a politically well-connected do-gooder organization and acquire the undeniably historically significant Freedom House. This close call between two compelling choices, one with a sound business case and the other with a political one, is hardly compelling evidence for reparations for slavery's descendants.

The best analogy would be the reparations the United States Government paid the victims of WWII internment of Japanese U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents. The program covered only those victims still surviving on its effective date or their estates if they had died after the law took effect but before it was implemented. This reflects the legal notion that rights belong to the living and to their proximate heirs. Just as our American legal framework does not recognize inheritable titles of nobility, neither does it embrace inter-generational social debts.

At the end of the American Civil War, some former slaves returned to Africa, even if not to the exact place in Africa from which their ancestors had been taken, but most chose to remain in the United States. Sub-Saharan Africa's standard of living today typically is one-tenth of the U.S. standard of living regardless of whether or not the country lost a sizable share of its population to the Atlantic slave trade. Not surprisingly, most freed slaves chose to remain in the U.S. and the U.S. fully reparationed them by granting them the U.S. citizenship which the Supreme Court's Scott v. Sanford (1857) decision had definitively denied them. While the United States may have had an obligation to return the freed slaves to their ancestral continent with some sort of compensation, an alternative form of compensation, U.S. citizenship, was offered and accepted.

It is inappropriate for us today to engage in "presentism" to second-guess the decisions our country made, and its new citizens accepted, 150 years ago.

Dino Drudi

Alexandria