• Donald V. Watkins

Black America Left Behind, Again!

Updated: Dec 6, 2021

By: Donald V. Watkins

Copyrighted and Published on December 5, 2021


To date, the federal government has allocated more than $6.52 trillion in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is far more than the entire federal budget for 2019.


Most of the funding came from two bills -- The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, which passed Congress in March of 2020 and provided $2.2 trillion in aid, and the American Rescue Plan Act, which passed Congress in March of 2021 and provided $1.9 trillion in aid. Another $420 billion was allocated to various federal agencies for disbursement as federal research grants for colleges, universities, and biomedical companies.


In 2020, the Federal Reserve Bank allocated more than $2 trillion in the form of loans to major corporations to keep them afloat during the pandemic. All of these corporations are white-owned.


Of this $6.52 trillion in federal COVID relief money, only $1 trillion was allocated in direct aid to American taxpayers who were in economic need. This amount included $464 billion for additional unemployment benefits and $695 billion for stimulus checks.


Only $428 billion was allocated for programs to aid small businesses, and most of this money was ripped off by a slew of Wall Street firms that raided and depleted the small business aid fund within the first two weeks of its existence -- without fear of prosecution by federal authorities.


On November 15, 2021, Congress passed a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, which President Joe Biden signed into law. This bill includes $312 billion for transportation projects, $65 billion for broadband access across America, and $108 billion for the electrical grid. This measure became part of Biden's initiative for rebuilding America's infrastructure.


Altogether, about $7.3 trillion has been allocated for "Aid, Relief, and Economic Security," the "American Rescue Plan", and Biden's infrastructure plan. Remarkably, this $7.3 trillion economic security blanket has failed African-Americans, again.


This $7.3 trillion is the largest wealth transfer program in U.S. history, and it could not have happened without the active support of black members of Congress. They have, once again, enriched white America in ways that words alone cannot describe, while leaving black businesses, communities, educational institutions, and political constituents twisting in the wind.


Not one black member of Congress can tell African-Americans how much of the $7.3 trillion is going directly into the coffers of black-owned businesses, black communities, science and technology research programs at HCBUs, community-based education programs, economic empowerment grants, and neighborhood revitalization programs in our inner cities.


I will tell you the embarrassing answer: About $1 billion, even though blacks account for 12% of the U.S. population and contribute far more than their fair share in federal tax revenues. To put this number in perspective, you should know that Moderna received $10 billion for its COVID-19 vaccine and Pfizer received $11 billion for theirs.


America's Ugly History of Ignoring Black America in Times of Economic Distress


Whenever black America has requested aid, economic security, or slavery-era compensation, or a build back better plan, or a financial rescue plan from Congress or the President, its pleas have fallen on deaf ears. These four examples tell the real story:


1. In 1915, black social justice activist Callie House sued the U.S. Treasury Department for $68,073,388.99 in compensation for ex-slaves. The white political establishment in Washington claimed that House's fight for economic security for ex-slaves was "setting Negroes wild" and that she was meddling in "white folks things." They labeled House as "defiant" because she would not back down from seeking pensions, life insurance, health insurance, land grants, agricultural assistance, educational assistance, reparations for slavery, and burial assistance for ex-slaves and their families.


In 1896, House co-founded the Rutherford County, Tennessee-based National Ex-Slave Mutual Relief, Bounty and Pension Association (MRB&PA) with Isaiah Dickerson and turned this organization into the first national grassroots movement to help ex-slaves achieve economic security and a chance for financial independence. House, who was a widow and mother of five children, worked as a washerwoman and seamstress. Yet, she hired lawyers to lobby Congress for proposed legislation that furthered the goals of MRB&PA.


In 1916, at the urging of Southerners in President Woodrow Wilson's cabinet, Callie House and several MRB&PA officers were indicted on bogus mail fraud charges, tried in an all-white, all-male federal courtroom in Nashville, and convicted. House was sentenced to one year in prison. White House and Department of Justice records from the era showed that House was prosecuted for the sole purpose of destroying MRB&PA's national grassroots movement for land grants, pensions, and compensation for ex-slaves.


In addition to seeking pensions like the ones paid to Union soldiers and reparations like the ones paid to white slaveowners in Washington, D.C. whose slaves were emancipated by an Act of Congress in 1863, Callie House and MRB&PA also sought land grants for ex-slaves. House, who was born into slavery in 1861, was mindful that Union Army General William T. Sherman issued Special Field Order No. 15 on January 16, 1865, which set aside 400,000 acres of free land for newly freed slaves. Each slave family was entitled to 40 acres. In the Fall of 1865, President Andrew Johnson rescinded Special Field Order No. 15, leaving freed slaves with nothing but their freedom.


Callie House modeled her land grant request on the U.S. government's award of 160 aces of free land (including mineral rights, oil and gas rights, and timber rights) to three million white peasant who were openly recruited from Europe to America under the Homestead Act of 1862. This "whites only" land giveaway program ran for 124 years and finally ended in 1986. In total, 270 million acres of land from the Mississippi River to the California and Alaskan coastlines were given away to whites for free. This land was originally part of the 1.5 billion acres the U.S. Army took by force from Native American tribes between 1830 and 1907. Today, some 20% of white Americans are descendants of the beneficiaries of this 1862 Congressional wealth transfer program.


2. In May of 1921, a white mob burned down "Black Wall Street" in the Greenwood Community of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Hundreds of black residents were murdered and the entire commercial district was burned down. No rioter was arrested or prosecuted. To this day, the federal government has not spent one dollar to "Build Black Wall Street Back Better."


3. White Southern Democrats demanded that President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal programs be crafted to exclude blacks from most of the programs' benefits. Roosevelt caved-in to their demands. Without equal housing opportunities, the wealth gap between black and white Americans that began with slavery, grew dramatically with the Homestead Act's 124-year land giveaway for whites, widened with the destruction of "Black Wall Street," increased substantially with the explosion of white home ownership under the FHA-backed mortgage program, and became a permanent fact of life that is backstopped by nine federal tax deductions (i.e., home mortgage interest deduction, state and local taxes deduction, charitable deductions, tax-exempt bonds deduction, life insurance exclusion, pension exclusion, capital gains exclusion, home sales exclusion, and estate set-up exclusion) that overwhelmingly favor white taxpayers. As a result of this amalgamation of federal wealth policies, the median wealth today for white families is $188,200, compared with $24,100 for black families.


4. The systematic "redlining" of black neighborhoods by banks in both the North and South meant that 98% of Federal Housing Administration-backed mortgages went to white households from 1934 to 1962. After I founded Alamerica Bank in in Birmingham in 1999, I personally observed systematic redlining that was routinely practiced by publicly-traded and white privately-owned banks in Alabama's banking market. I voiced my concerns to state and federal banking regulators about this unchecked redlining conduct. In response to my concerns, the Alabama State Banking Department, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation in Atlanta, and Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta formed a protective ring around the "redlining" banks based in Alabama, while manufacturing pretextual reasons to: (a) force me out of the banking business and (b) subject me to the Callie House treatment.


Epilogue


President Joe Biden's $2 trillion "Build America Back Better" bill is working its way in Congress right now. It suffers from the same flaws as the 2020 and 2021 relief, rescue, and infrastructure bills. Blacks are left out of this bill, as well. If this bill passes, a whopping $10 trillion will have changed hands in a way that has virtually zero impact on creating wealth-building opportunities for black America.


This federal spending has been a feeding frenzy for white America and Wall Street banks. They will benefit immensely from these measures.


Where is Black America's political equivalent to U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, III (D-W. Virginia) and U.S. Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona)? These two U.S. Senators are powerful because they never sign on to any economic relief bill until and unless their constituents are fully taken care of first. Black members of Congress should follow their example.



IMAGE: Callie House, an ex-slave who was unfairly targeted by the federal government for her campaign to gain economic security for the nation's ex-slaves.

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