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Saturday, 17 August, 2002, 20:25 GMT 21:25 UK
US blacks demand slavery reparations
Members of the New Black Panther Party sell prints of early 20th century lynchings at the rally
Success could be hard without Congress support
A rally began in Washington on Saturday in support of the campaign for reparations to be paid to American blacks who are descendants of slaves.

Organisers expected tens of thousands of black Americans to converge on the Capitol building to demonstrate their support.

However, BBC correspondent Alex Van Wel estimated that only a few thousand had turned up and believed that without the support of Congress it would be difficult for the campaign to succeed.


I want justice - they built this country off the free labour of our ancestors

Protester Antoinette Harrell-Miller

A bill calling for a study on the effects of slavery has consistently been rejected by the House of Representatives.

Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan told the crowd: ''It seems that America owes black people a lot for what we have endured. We cannot settle for some little jive token. We need millions of acres of land that black people can build.''

Leaders absent

Representative John Conyers urged the crowd to press Congress to take action.

''Only Congress can do what we want done,'' he said.

Other leading figures in the black civil rights movement were absent, including the Reverend Jesse Jackson and the Reverend Al Sharpton.

Nevertheless, the speakers enjoyed strong support from the protesters.

A Library of Congress photo depicts Southern slave life
Calls for reparations for 250 years of slavery have split the black community

One, Antoinette Harrell-Miller, had driven 19 hours from New Orleans with her husband Dennis to attend.

''They owe us,'' Ms Harrell-Miller said. ''I want justice. They built this country off the free labour of our ancestors.''

The demonstrators were buoyed by the fact that a number of class action lawsuits have been started against companies who once used slaves.

A separate case against the US Government is expected to be filed later this year.

Organisers of the rally have been quoted as saying the movement enjoys broad support among US blacks.

"It is our contention that millions of black people in America support the idea of reparations for black people, and thousands of those millions will be in Washington," Conrad Worrill, national chairman of the National Black United Front told the NBC network.

However, some conservative black Americans say the movement depicts black people as victims and is counter-productive in the struggle to oppose racism and give all modern Americans equal rights.

See also:

26 Mar 02 | Business
14 Mar 02 | In Depth
03 Jan 02 | Business
07 Sep 01 | In Depth
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