Ta-Nehisi Coates Delivers Searing History Lesson After Mitch McConnell Rejects Reparations

In dismissing reparations, the Republican leader appeared to argue that Obama’s election had been progress enough.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, the celebrated and influential author of “The Case for Reparations,” on Wednesday directly challenged remarks made by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) the day earlier, during which the Republican leader came out against reparations arguing that “none of us currently living are responsible” for slavery.

“I don’t think reparations for something that happened 150 years ago for whom none of us currently living are responsible is a good idea,” McConnell told reporters Tuesday. According to McConnell, the historic racism stemming from slavery had largely ended with the Civil Rights Act and the election of the first African American president. 

“This rebuttal proffers a strange theory of governance, that American accounts are somehow bound by the lifetime of its generations,” Coates said in his opening remarks at the first congressional hearing in a decade on reparations. “But well into this century, the United States was still paying our pensions to the heirs of Civil War soldiers. We honor treaties that date back some 200 years despite no one being alive who signed those treaties.”

Rejecting McConnell’s central argument that slavery took place during a historical period with little relevance today, much less the ability for the modern government to address, Coates continued his impassioned testimony by listing the racial injustices McConnell had indeed been alive for.

“For a century after the Civil War black people were subjected to a relentless campaign of terror, a campaign that extended well into the lifetime of majority leader McConnell,” Coates said. He added, “We grant that Mr. McConnell was not alive for Appomattox but he was alive for the electrocution of George Stinney. He was alive for the blinding of Isaac Woodard.”

“He was alive for the redlining of Chicago and the looting of black homeowners of some $4 billion. Victims of that plunder are very much alive today. I am sure they’d love a word with the majority leader.”

Fact:

In-depth journalism that investigates the powerful takes real money and is so damn important right now.But it doesn’t take a Mother Jones investigation to know that billionaires and corporations will never fund the type of reporting (like they do politicians) we do that exists to help bring about change. Instead, our mission-driven journalism is made possible by people power, and has been for 46 years now since our founding as a non-profit.

In “TITLE TK” Monica Bauerlein writes about the perilous moment we’re in, and why it’s so important that we raise $325,000 by the time November’s midterms are decided so we can be ready to throw everything we have at the big issues facing the nation no matter what happens. Please help MoJo’s people-powered journalism with a donation today.

$400,000 to go!

payment methods

Fact:

In-depth journalism that investigates the powerful takes real money and is so damn important right now.But it doesn’t take a Mother Jones investigation to know that billionaires and corporations will never fund the type of reporting (like they do politicians) we do that exists to help bring about change. Instead, our mission-driven journalism is made possible by people power, and has been for 46 years now since our founding as a non-profit.

In “TITLE TK” Monica Bauerlein writes about the perilous moment we’re in, and why it’s so important that we raise $325,000 by the time November’s midterms are decided so we can be ready to throw everything we have at the big issues facing the nation no matter what happens. Please help MoJo’s people-powered journalism with a donation today.

$400,000 to go!

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate