Ta-Nehisi Coates at the City Club

We haven’t read the article titled “The Case for Reparations” by Ta-Nehisi Coates which appears in the May 14, 2014 edition of “The Atlantic” , and is available on line, although we would like to now because on Friday, August 22nd, we heard Mr. Coates talk about it at the City Club of Greater Cleveland.
Mr. Coates is a national correspondent for “The Atlantic” where he writes about culture, politics and social issues. His article that makes the case for reparations for African Americans is 15,000 words long and it took him two years to put it together. As Mr. Coates began his speech he indicated that he was invited to the City Club to talk about his provocative article before the current controversy involving Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri took place but he said with regret that “we can always bet that something will happen to make stories timely.”

To state it briefly, Mr. Coates said that so far the U.S. has only offered short term solutions to the debt he believes is owed to African Americans so the time has come to address the problem head-on and actually consider reparations; he cited Congressman John Conyers’ bill HR 40 as a possible vehicle. Certainly there are historical precedents for reparations such as the United States granting them to Japanese Americans for placing them in internment camps during World War II.

Speaking of the Ferguson situation, Mr. Coates said the best way to get a perspective about what is going on in that community is to look at the history of its housing pattern. In fact, Mr. Coates said that housing patterns should be a determinant regarding who should be eligible for reparations due to the redlining that was so prevalent not that long ago.

To be sure, a large part of Mr. Coates’ presentation had to do with the effects of slavery and we learned something that we didn’t know before when he told us that that, prior to the civil rights movement, African Americans often had to pay taxes for programs like the New Deal and the GI Bill which they couldn’t partake in themselves because the administration of these program was often left to the localities which excluded them particularly in the South. We also didn’t know that 65% of African Americans were initially ineligible for Social Security.

Today, Mr. Coates was proud to announce that his father, Mr. Paul Coates was with us in the audience and praised his father, a former research librarian, for teaching him the importance of good research and documentation. We spoke to Mr. Paul Coates after his son’s presentation and he, in turn, praised his son for his commitment to excellence and said one of the keys to his success was that he “never gets out of his lane” by not talking and writing about things that he doesn’t know about.

What helped to make this day special for us was that we shared a table with friends Ms. Meryl Johnson; Ms. Wyn Antonio with the North Shore AFL-CIO; Mr. Nick Castele with 90.3 WCPN; Councilman Earl Williams of Shaker Heights who said that Ms. Wong is one of his constituents; and Virginia and Rebecca Weiss whose father, Mr. Nelson Weiss used to be the President of the City Club.

We also got to talk with several people from the Center for Community Solutions which sponsored this event including Ms. Jasmine Long, a social worker; Ms. Sheila James, Executive Assistant and the Executive Director, Mr. John A. Begala who communicated with Ms. Wong just the other day.

Among the other people that we said hello to were former Pepper Pike City Councilwoman Jill Zimon, Ms. Meredith Turner from U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown’s office, Attorney Ken McDuffie, Mr. Ronald Van Johnson from Keybank, and Mr. Morton V. Smith, Jr. of OhioGuidestone.

We particularly liked saying hello to Ms. Barbara Danforth, Senior VP of the City Club. We told Ms. Danforth that we liked being at this luncheon and she replied, “Good crowd, good speaker, good weather-it doesn’t get much better!”