"In order to get beyond racism, we must first take account of race. There is no other way." - Supreme Court Justice Blackmun
When the Vilmme Genocide Reparations Trials were occurring, reparations for African slavery had become a hot social and political topic across Europe and the United States. This time it was unavoidable for many who were serving in public office in the U.S. to ignore.
While academics argued back and forth about the legitimacy of paying or enacting any form of reparations for the American institution of African slavery, the City of Stoneburg had become one of many eastern U.S. small cities where the issue had boiled over.
It was during the city elections for Mayor and Council that reparations took center focus.
The city was founded in 1801 by the Maryland General Assembly during a time of well-documented slavery. The U.S. Census reported in 1860 that there were 1,510 slaves being held by property owners who took part in the city's politics. During the Civil War, there were many documented Southern sympathizers. Newspapers at the time reported that the City would routinely fall to either side on a nearly daily basis during the Civil War. Even after the Civil War, a Mayor’s wife was involved with the erection of a Confederate monument. A monument that years later would be defaced and moved up County. Both Confederates and Union soldiers were buried in the local City graveyard and honored each year during Memorial Day.
The City was proud of its Civil War traditions even during the times of urban renewal. It preserved as much as possible with a local heritage society.
But now public opinion was turning against its leaders. Angry groups of protestors marched in the streets demanding justice and retribution for the City’s slave history. The protestors despised the City’s participation with the South during the Civil War.
Those seeking re-election argued against any such reparations because the City of Stoneburg was no longer that city. It had moved on since those times. Things had changed, and so had its people.
But the angry mobs would have none of this. Those seeking to unseat the current Mayor and Council aligned their views with the protestors. Promising if elected, they would dissolve the city and pay out all its assets to every bona fide African American living in its boundaries in compensation.
While the saying says “all politics are local” in this case not even the local social media net was paying attention. These small-town political battles were not seen as worthy of views to even bother making a story about it. The social media net instead concerned itself with the generalized topics of reparations and slavery. While the City fought the whole debate between a small community of active citizens with campaign signs popping up in yards up and down the streets.
When election day came, the challengers won, but only by a narrow margin of a few hundred votes. Keeping to their campaign promise, on their very first day after being sworn in, they worked on the process of de-incorporating the city. To do so, a petition with only 25% of eligible voters would have to be drawn up, submitted to the county for approval, and then voted upon by the eligible voters in the city.
The City Council-elect did all this, except the County Council initially rejected the petition. The County Council held a public hearing afterwards, and the hearing went on until the early hours of the morning with both sides arguing for and against the petition. But it became clear to the Council members present that if they didn’t approve this petition, they would face a tough re-election over reparations. It was far easier to sacrifice the City of Stoneburg than subject the county to potential reparation claims.
The County Council established a date for the vote, and once more like the City Mayor and Council election, the vote was remarkably close. But the citizens elected to dissolve the city. After paying off the city’s liabilities, the 7,500 African American citizens would each get roughly a single payment of $47,800.00 less taxes withheld.
Thus, the City of Stoneburg dealt with its slavery past by liquidating itself. The first among many small cities and towns with slavery roots to be liquidated on the Eastern seaboard of the United States.
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Image- Lady Justice. By Tingey Injury Law Firm. Source Unsplash, Unsplash License. (Processed using Adobe Splash)
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