Panel explores case for reparations in Northampton

By ALEXANDER MACDOUGALL

Staff Writer

Published: 01-26-2023 7:49 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Proponents of establishing a commission on reparations in Northampton for African Americans are lobbying the City Council to pass a resolution on the issue in February, coinciding with Black History Month.

The Northampton Reparations Committee, the seven-member group petitioning the city to investigate the historical impact of slavery and racism against Black people in the city’s past, held an online Zoom meeting on Tuesday to further outline the case for reparations that was attended by about 300 people. In addition to several committee members, the virtual discussion featured three panelists who spoke in greater detail about the concept of reparations and why they are necessary.

Dr. Ousmane Power-Greene, an associate professor of history at Clark University in Worcester, said that although the issue of reparations has gained more mainstream attention in recent years following the 2020 protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the idea of reparations in the country has roots that go back centuries.

“It’s been central to African American social and political movements, from the founding of the nation to the present,” he said. “But what has happened, clearly, since 2020 at least, is there’s been a broader recognition of the need for reparations, as we think about dealing with issues pertaining to racial injustice.”

Massachusetts officially abolished slavery in 1783, 130 years after Northampton’s founding. During those years, many of the city’s prominent individuals, some of whom still have streets named after them, owned slaves. Jonathan Edwards, the most famous Northampton resident during this period and who preached against the evils of slavery, himself owned four African slaves, according to Yale University’s Slavery Research Project.

“We are putting our shoulder to the plow and joining a national reparations movement that has power and purpose,” said the Rev. Andrea Ayvazian, director of the Sojourner Truth School for Social Change Leadership who served as one of the panelists. “Northampton would join communities across the country that are working toward making reparations on the local and state level.”

Amherst is one such town that has successfully created a reparations program, now known as the African Heritage Reparation Assembly. Other towns and cities across the country with ongoing efforts to achieve reparations include Providence, Rhode Island, Evanston, Illinois and Asheville, North Carolina.

Although attempts to push reparations legislation are not new, the success of current efforts means the time for Northampton to act is now, said Dan Cannity, co-chair of the city’s Policing Review Commission, who served as the third panelist.

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“It seems every few decades there’s a big push to wrestle with reparations with varying degrees of success,” he said in a statement to the Gazette. “But now we’re seeing not only a push, we’re seeing successes at the local level to really grapple with the history of the country, understanding how that history has shaped us today and understanding that there’s work to heal the wounds we have between us.”

Alexander MacDougall can be reached at amacdougall@gazettenet.com.

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