’s ambitious new book challenges Americans to face our collective responsibility for ongoing racial inequality. Rather than fall back on what Franke calls a “palliative history” that emphasizes granting freedom and rights after the Civil War, Franke insists that Americans acknowledge the failure to provide any meaningful reparation to formerly enslaved people in the 1860s. That failure has ongoing structural effects today.
The book replots this history through archival research on two post-war communities in which property ownership produced increased autonomy for freed
people. Franke contrasts free and freed
– and calls this the dangling ‘d’ the residue of enslavement. Using a myriad of primary documents from the Sea Islands of South Carolina and Davis Bend, Mississippi, Franke details the successes and failures of these communities as they governed and organized their land. Repair
demonstrates how government officials recognized the need for reparations (a term they used) and repair in the form of land ownership – an approach later reversed by President Johnson.
Repair: Redeeming the Promise of Abolition
(Haymarket Books, 2020) reflects on these radical examples of 19th-century reparations in order to contribute to the modern call for reparations. For Franke, the atrocity of slavery is a festering national wound and the examples of history suggest ways in which we might funnel national wealth (though estate taxes) to a fund to empower black ownership and citizenship.
Susan Liebell is associate professor of political science at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. She is the author of Democracy, Intelligent Design, and Evolution: Science for Citizenship (Routledge, 2013).