Reparations for Slavery

Reparations for Slavery?


In this lesson, students explore the pros and cons of paying reparations for slavery. First, students read and discuss an article on reparations. Then in small groups, students role play a presidential commission making recommendations on reparations.


Students will be able to:

  1. State arguments supporting and opposing reparations for slavery.
  2. Evaluate options on reparations.


U.S. History Standards for High School:

Understands economic, social, and cultural developments in the contemporary United States. Specifically:

. . . Understands major contemporary social issues and the groups involved.

Civics Standards for High School:

Understands the role of diversity in American life and the importance of shared values, political beliefs, and civic beliefs in an increasingly diverse American society. Specifically:

. . . Knows examples of conflicts stemming from diversity, and understands how some conflicts have been managed and why some of them have not yet been successfully resolved.

Understands the formation and implementation of public policy. Specifically:

. . . Knows a public policy issue at the . . . national level well enough to identify the major groups interested in that issue and explain their respective positions.


You will need a copy of Handout--Reparations Panel for each student.


A. Focus Discussion: Hold a brief discussion with students by asking the following questions:

• What are reparations? (Compensation, usually monetary, for wrongs or injuries.)

• When do you think reparations are appropriate?

B. Reading and Discussion: Ask students to read Reparations for Slavery?. Conduct a class discussion using the Points of Inquiry questions at the end of the reading.

  1. After the passage of the 13th Amendment following the Civil War, should the former slaves have been granted reparations?
  2. How are reparations for black slavery similar and different from the following:

    a. reparations paid by the U.S. government to the Sioux Indians for lands illegally confiscated in 1877?

    b. reparations paid by the West German government to Jewish survivors of Nazi concentration camps?

    c. reparations paid by the U.S. government to Japanese Americans interned unconstitutionally in prison camps during World War II?

  3. Do you agree or disagree that many problems faced today by the African-American community are the "legacy of slavery"? Why or why not?

C. Small-Group Activity: Reparations Panel

Step 1. Divide students into groups of three or four. Ask them to imagine that they are members of a presidential panel appointed to make recommendations on reparations for slavery.

Step 2. Distribute the Handout--Reparations Panel to students and review it with them. Make clear that they are to have reasons for each decision they make. Tell them to review the article they just read to help them with the activity.

Step 3. Give them time to complete the task. When they are ready, ask which groups, if any, favored option #1. Have them explain why they favored it and give other groups a chance to comment on why they rejected it. Repeat this for all four options. Then ask for student-created options and discuss them. Finally, as a class, vote on the various options.