The Southern Christian Leadership Conference is preparing to close its annual convention Wednesday in Montgomery, after addressing a number of racially-charged issues. Near the top of the agenda was reparations for slavery. It's an idea that seems to divide the races, but one many members feel passionate about.
Many African Americans feel they deserve payment for the pain their ancestors suffered as slaves. They say slavery led to the discrimination of today. "Not having equal access to education, not having job rights," explains Congresswoman Maxine Waters. "The kind of discrimination that's gone on is a direct result of the kind of thinking that enslaved people."
Those opposed to reparations say the movement is coming too late. They're also concerned that it would bankrupt the government and that there's no fair way of going about it. But at the SCLC convention, you'll hear why none of those concerns are valid.
"America didn't have a problem dealing with the Indians. America didn't have a problem dealing with the Japanese," says Dorothy Tillman, chairwoman of the National Reparations Convention Committee. She says she is working on a reparations plan. "I believe America will rise to the occasion to do the right thing once the facts are put out there and we have dialogue," says Tillman.
"We have to figure out how to do it," explains Waters. "What will the formula be? What will the amount be? But I think it's possible." As strongly as these SCLC delegates support reparations, however, there are others who strongly oppose it. And if it happens, it will take a long fight.
Speaking about another concern, the importance of AIDS education, Coretta Scott King was one of the convention's headliners. She and her assistant would not agree to talk about reparations. "We promised the president to speak only about this issue (AIDS) and stay focused," her assistant told WSFA. "The media does not set the agenda."
King's son, Martin Luther King III has been the focus of recent criticism that he is not doing a good job as president. But as the convention winds down, board members are giving assurances that there will be no changes in leadership.
Delegates were scheduled to attend a community hearing Tuesday night at Montgomery's Lilly Baptist Church, where they were to discuss other controversial issues like racial profiling and police brutality. Meanwhile, other delegates traveled to Anniston to rally against an incinerator being built by the army to destroy chemical weapons.