Friday | May 29, 2015

A Panel sponsored by the Albert Shanker Institute.
Georgetown University.

 The face of poverty in the United States is that of an African-American infant: forty-five percent of African-American children under five live in poverty. By comparison, fifteen percent of white children under five live in poverty. This stark differential is the bitter legacy of centuries of racial oppression and exploitation – enslavement, Jim Crow segregation, and institutionalized discrimination in employment, housing, health care and education. The American economy was built – and American wealth was accumulated – upon a foundation of this exploitation.

A half-century ago, at the height of the civil rights movement, a number of its visionary leaders – A. Philip Randolph, Martin Luther King and Bayard Rustin, most prominently – concluded that African-American freedom would never be completely won without economic emancipation. To achieve that end, they developed the Freedom Budget, a broad social-democratic program that redistributed wealth to the African-American poor in the form of full employment, living wages, decent housing, health care and quality education. Five years later, James Forman Sr., a former SNCC leader, issued a demand for $500 million in reparations to African-Americans for slavery, invoking a history that included German reparations to survivors of the Holocaust.

In their broad contours, these two strategies continue to shape thinking and discourse on African-American economic emancipation to day. Our panel brings together a number of public intellectuals and activists who have been part of this ongoing debate and conversation to discuss the points of convergence and divergence between these two strategies, making a case for their preferred approach.


Paul LeBlanc is a professor of history at LaRoche College and co-author of the book A Freedom Budget for All Americans: Recapturing the Promise of the Civil Rights Movement in the Struggle for Economic Justice Today.

Patrick Mason is a professor of economics and director of African-American studies at Florida State University and the author of numerous books and articles on the political economy of race.

Jerry Gafio Watts is a professor of english at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, and the author of books on Ralph Ellison and Amiri Baraka.

Moderator: Leo Casey, executive director of the Albert Shanker Institute