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1903: The Year Black Americans of Montgomery, AL Requested $100,000,000 in Reparations

Updated: Aug 5, 2023


Not too long after the Emancipation Proclamation was stated by the president of the United States on January 1, 1863, the sentiments of newly emancipated African slaves expressing the desire to ask for leave from America and have permanent residence in Africa became more prevalent. The approximate 212 American slave revolts led by individuals such as Nat Turner or Gabriel Prosser had begun to fade in the distance. Africans in America had been growing in their literacy rates, thanks to its Black clergy and abolitionists of Caucasian descent, and were now equipped with a burgeoning group of men and women who displayed the type of leadership fit for running thriving, notable businesses much like what was present in Centennial Hill of Montgomery, AL or Black Wall Street (Little Africa) in Tulsa, OK. This presented to America a new type of African who now had bargaining power via communication. Yes. Bargaining power through, polemics, debate, and literature (i.e. the printing press).

As more freedmen, having been referred to as “negroes” or “coloreds” at that time, began to understand the Constitution and laws of the land in general, unified associations became an ever-increasing priority in order for the freedmen to access long-standing resources and secure prosperity for their own people. It must also be noted that as early as the 1890s freedmen were already planning to create an economic bridge from North America to Africa.[1] Nevertheless, across America, every attempt for the freedmen to live out the longings and aspirations of the U. S. Constitution, just as all other citizens, were met with unspeakable hostility.

In response to the above, around year 1903, Black people in Montgomery, AL formed their own National Colored Immigration and Commercial Association chapter. It is likely this association was started by Bishop H. M. Turner of Georgia who was a pan-African and also a republican. The group occupied itself with the business of sending a large number of Montgomery freedmen to the Republic of Liberia, Africa. It adopted a resolution for boarded vessels loaded exclusively with Black passengers to leave America for Africa in year 1904. Moreover, a considerable financial contribution would be asked of Congress to support this project since the group contended that America was indebted to Black people due to the extensive damage it had done to the race for centuries. This particular group in Montgomery would also have knowledge of the unsuccessful stays of American freedmen who traveled to Liberia from 1895–96. The petition on June 25, 1903 included the following:

A petition to President Roosevelt and the National Congress, citing the wrongs from which the colored race is said to suffer, was adopted. An appropriation of $100,000,000 was asked from Congress to be used for securing the transportation of members of the race who desire to settle in Liberia. The petition it is explained, does not recommend a wholesale deportation.[2]

Unlike voyages for Black freedmen led by the American Colonization Society that did not accompany reparations of any kind, Montgomery Blacks asked for $100,000,000—the equivalent of around 3.2 billion U. S. dollars today.

The same source reveals Black people throughout Georgia, especially the city of Savannah, asked for a sum of money from the U. S. in order to rightly send them “back to Africa, the land of our fathers.”[3] After having suffered from a failing Freedmen’s Bureau program and a president[4] who overturned the “forty acres and a mule” financial stimulus, Black freedmen were determined to petition Washington directly and immediately for reparations packages.

During this time and for many consecutive years into the future, Black people in America would suffer unprecedented physical and psychological trauma leading many to become quiescent about the topic of reparations. This would change when a precocious and peculiar Black gentleman from Jamaica would arrive upon the shores of America and challenge his people to continue seeking out the financial blueprint of the economic bridge from America to Africa. His name is Marcus Mosiah Garvey. He did not merely create large enterprises to connect Black peoples from North America, South America, Caribbean Islands, and Africa. He also established a company, with which one could purchase shares of stock, for ship vessels that would be used solely for the benefit of Black people traveling to and from the places noted above.

After all, the Black people of Montgomery, AL, even at the dawn of the 20th century, understood the impact group economics had on their people. Well before the Civil Rights Era had they been a remarkable and determined people who considered organization a top priority. They leave before us indelible standards that grace the shelves of libraries all across our nation!


____________________________ [1] These ideas stemmed from the initiatives of the United States itself having shipped several slaves, who had already gained their freedom, to Liberia, Africa. This initiative was entitled the American Colonization Society, which sought to counteract the statistical nuisance of the soon possibility of free Blacks becoming a threat in various ways to American society through business, accumulation of wealth, and/or inspiring other slaves to revolt. Thus, post-Civil War Blacks knew that migration could be done but this time they strived to do it in a way that would not leave their people financially regressing. [2] "Negroes Ask $100,000,000,” New York Times, June 26, 1903. [3] Ibid. [4] President Andrew Johnson (1865–1869). Johnson repudiated the Freedmen’s Bureau Bill, had little to no regard for Black suffrage, and also identified Congress “radicals/radical Congress” for having been in support of general Black enfranchisement. Please see Hans L. Trefousse, Andrew Johnson: A Biography (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1989) 214–69.

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