Debunking Reparations

Robert Thompson and flag cord (Credit: Jim Thompson)

In December 1862 Robert Thompson was a flag bearer. Private Thompson was carrying the flag during a little-known battle called Kinston, North Carolina. Carrying the colors during the Civil War was like having a “shoot me” sign on your woolen blue uniform. Robert was carrying the flag for Pennsylvania volunteers when a Confederate cannonball hit the wood staff about an inch above his right hand. The shell blew the staff out of his hands, knocked him out of the battle, and out of the shooting war. Before he was taken captive, he reflexively picked up a piece of white and blue flag cord blown off by the blast. His days of fighting for his country weren’t over. He spent the remainder of the war in POW camps fighting to stay alive. He spent many of those months at the infamous place of horror known as Andersonville Prison.

Every day at Andersonville was deprivation and death. Every day, men died of disease. Men recalled the constant “buzz” of fat flies. Men who had clothes were fortunate. Some men were naked. A prison that was intended to hold 10,000 swelled to 33,000. Men dug holes in the dirt for shelter. When my ancestor was finally liberated, he was a physical wreck. He carried his injuries with him for the rest of his life. When Union soldiers greeted him he was wearing tatters for clothes, but he still had the white and blue flag cord he picked up off the ground at Kinston.

Robert was the direct and actual victim of injury suffered and he was awarded a pension. $12 a month. The demand for reparation for ancestors of slaves has never made sense to me. When FDR sent thousands of Americans to internment camps because their ancestors were Japanese, that was an ugly stain on America. Japanese Americans who suffered that fate deserved every cent of reparation, and frankly more for Roosevelt’s illegal and unconstitutional order. They were direct victims. Many are still alive today. They suffered the injury. Their great-grandchildren are not demanding their own reparations. Calling for reparations for Americans who are, in many cases, four or five or six generations removed from ancestors who were held in bondage is impractical, at best. Even its proponents like Ta-Nehisi Coates have admitted as much. I am all in for reparation for anyone held as a slave. None exist.

Slave owners? They too are all taking dirt naps. Yes, there are living racists who degraded, even murdered Black Americans during Jim Crow, but I don’t know any of them, and I don’t anyone who knows any of them. I’m all in for Blacks who suffered a direct injury during Jim Crow suing for damages and bankrupting those responsible. Direct injury. Direct reparations.

Blaming all living Americans (with a large percentage having no antebellum connection to America) for the sins of long-dead ancestors makes no more sense than me demanding payment for Robert Thompson’s multiple years of torture at the hands of Confederates. The confederates who ruined his body are long since dust in the wind. I never met Robert Thompson. His bones are dust as well. My only “memory” of him is preserved in a shadow box. The box contains the flag cord he carried through Andersonville, his photo later in life, and the envelope on which he penned what happened 159 years ago. He gave that envelope to his son, who then passed it down to generations yet born. I have it now, and it will be passed to someone yet born.