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Robin Adams Cheeley: OK, Greensboro, let’s talk reparations

Robin Adams Cheeley: OK, Greensboro, let’s talk reparations

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Asheville’s city council was the first in the state to do it. Charlotte’s mayor, not sure she could get her council’s support, did it alone.

A Durham city councilman announced plans for how that city might alleviate the lingering vestiges of it.

And Greensboro, which likes to compare itself to the state’s other major cities ... well, let’s just say, is late to the game.

The "it," in this case is the call for reparations and/or apologies to Black residents for the institutional racism of previous leaders.

Former U.S. Rep. John Conyers introduced a reparations bill in Congress annually from 1989 until his retirement in 2017. His rationale: Whether you owned slaves or not, you benefited from slave labor. But his efforts flopped.

In the midst of COVID-19, a string of entities has offered apologies including Lloyd's of London and, closer to home, Wake Forest University and Davidson College.

In July, Asheville, long considered a liberal city, unanimously approved a reparations resolution. City leaders there have created a committee to see how they can address the impact that slavery and, more recently, urban renewal policies have had on the economic and social well-being of the city’s Black residents.

In the 1950s and '60s, at the urging and financial support of the federal government, cities wiped out Black communities in the name of replacing those “blighted” areas with new and updated facilities. Businesses were closed. Many residents were moved to public housing, because they couldn't afford homes elsewhere or were barred from doing so by housing covenants or banks that wouldn’t lend to them. The land was then used in some instances, to build highways, i.e. Market Street in Greensboro, or for other city-supported purposes.

If you consider that home ownership equals wealth, then the generational wealth that would have been passed on to future generations was lost because the residents were stripped of their assets. More significantly, urban rewewal tore apart communities, wiped away cultural heritage and stifled the will and desire to start over.

In Charlotte, said Mayor Vi Lyles recently, the entire community of Brooklyn was wiped out. More than 10,000 citizens, 216 Black-owned businesses and 11 churches were displaced. Lyles, who offered a personal apology, is also working with a local group, Restorative Justice CLT, which has asked for an official apology from the city for its past actions and for special funds to be set aside to address the lingering impacts of the discrimination. They have not mentioned reparations, and neither did Lyles.

In Durham, City Councilman Mark Anthony Middleton proposed that the city pay some of its lowest-income residents between $500 to $1,000 a month for a year or more to see if it assists them with getting out of poverty and/or finding jobs.

A similar program was tried in Stockton, Calif., last year. There, 125 citizens who were living below the poverty line — even though many of them had jobs — got the no-strings-attached money for 18 months. The money was distributed via credit cards, making it easy to see how it was spent.

What they found defied popular stereotypes. The money wasn't used to support vices. Instead, the recipients purchased food and clothes and paid utility bills — the basic necessities.

Meanwhile in Greensboro, City Council member Goldie Wells said she’s still trying to get the city to apologize for the fact that the police did not protect citizens in Morningside Homes during the 1979 Klan-Nazi Massacre.

“We haven’t got to reparations at all,” she said.

Wells, along with fellow council members Sharon Hightower and Marikay Abuzuaiter, are meeting with a subcommittee of the Concerned Citizens of Northeast Greensboro to consider what, if anything, the city might do, said Bob Davis, who chairs the group.

Davis said he’s not sure you’d call what Asheville is doing reparations, but he supports some kind of reparations. He’s not pushing for outright payments, but he said he could consider free education for slave descendants. Others have considered college tuition remission, student loan forgiveness, housing down payments or low interest rates or business startup funds to slave descendants.

“All entities should do something,” said Davis a retired faculty member.

Concerned Citizens will meet again Sept. 3 and go from there.

Make no mistake, slavery was not only cruel and inhuman, it was big business.

Of every hour of useful work done in the Southern states, roughly 40 minutes was performed by a slave. Enslaved humans boosted the economy not only with their labor, but by living and breathing as relatively liquid assets.

So, what should Greensboro do?

When you violently take people from their homes; force them into labor; pay little or nothing; make teaching them to read illegal; ban them from certain jobs; create policies that won’t allow them to live where they choose or with their spouses; pay them less than you pay white men; crowd their children into substandard schools with outdated materials; tell them their history and culture is backward; and arrest and kill them at disproportionate rates, often with no punishment for the perpetrators, something has to be done.

What and how is open for discussion. Greensboro, let’s talk.

Robin Adams Cheeley, a member of the News & Record Community Editorial Board, is a freelance writer, who can be reached at

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