Are Reparations Supposed to Right Historical Wrongs?

4 min readJun 21, 2024
Photo by Kind and Curious on Unsplash

Since Rep. John Conyers introduced H.R. 40, a bill to investigate and redress the impact of slavery on black Americans, in 1989, the term “reparations” has evolved to mean “reparations for slavery.”

Nonetheless, the phrases were not interchangeable in legal circles.

The definition of “reparations” is “the replenishment of a previously inflicted loss by the criminal to the victim.” This is an old concept. From the start, the idea that “America should pay reparations for slavery” was flawed because it characterized “America” as “criminal.”

That idea ignored two historical details.

1) In 1780, Pennsylvania passed an act to gradually abolish slavery, freeing future slave children. This measure set the standard for subsequent northern states to abolish slavery. In 1787, the framers of the United States Constitution left slavery to the states because they believed it was already slowly phasing out.

2) Since the states determined the legality of slavery, the federal government was responsible for the national borders. In 1794, the United States Congress passed the Slave Trade Act, which prohibited American ships from participating in the slave trade or selling slaves to foreign ships. In 1808, the Act Prohibiting the Importation of Slaves went into effect.




J. Pharoah Doss is a columnist for the New Pittsburgh Courier.