That’s a tricky question, and it was prompted by this reader:
I wanted to chime in on the spat between Bernie Sanders and Ta-Nehisi Coates regarding Bernie’s rejection of reparations. TNC deeply feels that the economic system America has today was deliberately built not just on the backs of slaves, but also on the backs of African-Americans who lived in the days of Jim Crow laws and even since the major civil rights victories of the ‘60s. I find it hard to disagree with this thesis based on the comprehensive evidence he marshaled in his landmark article making the case for reparations.
Who else agreed with TNC that the U.S. economy was engineered for the benefit of rich white people at the expense of African-Americans? A couple of years ago, TNC shared a video [embedded above] where Martin Luther King, Jr. fiercely critiqued the government for rejecting grants of land to African-Americans while officially opening up land in the Midwest to white farmers, funding land grant colleges for their education, and providing subsidies and other funding to prop up their farms. It’s difficult to argue that MLK didn’t believe African-Americans deserved reparations regardless of whether they were the descendants of slaves.
But MLK wasn’t necessarily just in favor of race-based reparations. In his 1967 book Where We Go From Here, MLK focused on poverty and explicitly argued against focusing on the plight of African-Americans to the expense of others in poverty: