Well-known Reparations Activist Dies

Published April 20, 2009

The man who inspired Democratic Congressman John Conyers to propose reparations bills, has died at 88.

Ray Jenkins, a former Detroit real estate agent, was among the nation's first individuals to devote his life to calling for the American government to pay the descendants of slavery for their ancestors' labor.

Affectionately called "Reparations Ray," Jenkins began his activism in the 1960s when reparations was pushed by the Nation of Islam and only a few other organizations as part of their larger Black liberation strategies. But without major support or resources for his single commitment to seeing Blacks compensated nationwide, Jenkins was a sort of voice in the wilderness.

"He walked to a different beat. And he didn't mind that at all," Jenkins' daughter-in-law Renee Jenkins said at his funeral last week.

Jenkins was ridiculed, at times even in the Black community, as he tirelessly wrote letters and carried out a mostly one-man campaign that garnered more serious attention decades later. Today, the debate around reparations earns consideration at new levels: Influenced by Jenkins' continued passion, Conyers has proposed a law each year that would explore reparations.

First discussed over a century ago, reparations supporters have argued that slavery injured and continues to injure Black Americans by leaving them economically disadvantaged. Centuries of free, forced labor left Blacks collectively less wealthy, less educated and less powerful than other races, they argue. While land and other government preferences have been awarded as reparations to Native Americans and Japanese Americans, supporters vary on the form of reparations that Blacks should receive. Money and land are often the focus of activist discussions.

Written by BET.com News Staff

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