2 minute read

James Forman

Called For Reparations

On April 26, 1969, in Detroit, Michigan, Forman presented the Black Manifesto at the National Black Economic Development Conference. Sponsored by the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organizations, the conference adopted a manifesto that demanded Protestant and Jewish organizations pay $500 million in reparations to the African American community. In his speech, Forman called upon blacks to join in a black-socialist-led armed struggle to overthrow the United States government.

A month later, Forman interrupted services at New York City's Riverside Church to demand that the congregation pay reparations for the past damage inflicted upon people of color by white America. According to Larry Neal in The Black Seventies, this act not only made national front-page news, but marked "one of the high points of nonviolent action" during the conservative years of U.S. president Richard M. Nixon's administration.

As his involvement in SNCC activities decreased, Forman turned his attention to writing and academic study. Published in 1968, his first work, Sammy Younge, Jr.: The First Black College Student to Die in the Black Liberation Movement, is a biographical account of a young SNCC volunteer who was murdered by a white man in Tuskegee, Alabama. Aside from penning several other works, including his autobiography The Making of Black Revolutionaries, Forman earned a master's degree in professional studies in African and African American history from Cornell University in 1980 and a doctorate from the Union Institute. In spite of the ravages of cancer that initially appeared in the early 1990s, Forman continued to work from his Washington, D.C., office. He and Constancia Romily, his divorced wife, had two sons—James Jr., a public defender in Washington, D.C., and Chaka, a member of the Screen Actor's Guild.

In the December 2000 issue of The Progressive magazine, political scientist Adolph L. Reed, Jr. revisited Forman's notion that white America might owe reparations to black Americans for slavery and its legacy. As recounted by Reed, after James Forman presented his demand for $500 million in reparations at the Riverside Church in 1969, the idea of reparations smoldered until Jesse Jackson brought it to life again during the 1972 presidential campaign with his demand for a $900 million "freedom budget." Nothing came of the idea, however, and over the next two decades it was largely forgotten. But in 2000, thirty-one years after Forman delivered his "Black Manifesto," Randall Robinson published The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks, and the reparations issue again was on the front burner. Although yet to be resolved, the issue continues to intrigue and puzzle legal scholars and policy makers alike.

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: Trevor Edwards Biography - Accepted Wisdom from His Mother to Francisco Franco (1892–1975) BiographyJames Forman Biography - Awakened To Racial Discrimination, Dedicated Life To Fighting Oppression, Worked As Sncc Organizer, Traveled To Washington And Selma - Selected writings