The Five Injuries of Slavery Defined

Informed, honest historians and social scientists acknowledge the lingering affects of slavery on present day African American life. Accordingly, in 1996 and 1997, the N’COBRA Legal Strategies Commission, chaired by Attorney Adjoa A. Aiyetoro, set out to develop an approach to reparations litigation. The commission’s work led to the identification and documentation of the five “injury areas” suffered by African people during and after enslavement. The five “injury areas” include:

Peoplehood/Nationhood – The destruction of African peoples’ culture, and the infringement of the larger culture upon Black people of African descent in the United States and the prior colonies. Jim Crow and ongoing discrimination have resulted in a denial of our right to openly express our culture, appropriation of our culture, and denial of the right and resources necessary to be a self-determining people. Throughout this country’s history African Descendants’ efforts to be self-determining have been met with violence and destruction as evidenced by the untold numbers of Black townships, such as Greenwood, Oklahoma; Rosewood, Florida; and Wilmington, North Carolina – townships ultimately destroyed because of the surrounding white community’s jealousy and need to suppress models that refuted their claims of white superiority.

Education – The denial of our right to an education started in slavery with criminal sanctions imposed on our enslaved ancestors who learned, and anyone who taught them to read or write.  Maintenance of dual, separate but unequal systems from slavery to the present provided an inferior education in schools with predominantly Black students of African ancestry. Federal funds were often provided schools despite this dual education system – one predominantly Caucasian and the other for predominantly Black students of African ancestry.

Health — The focus is on physical and mental health. Health knowledge of enslaved Africans was appropriated and enslaved Africans functioned as non-paid health care providers for others; the use of Black people of African descent as subjects for tortuous health experiments (Tuskegee Syphilis Study) and the denial of quality health care during and post-slavery. The health injury area also includes the continuing discrimination in the provision of health care, including the disproportionately higher rate of closures of hospitals serving Black communities; lack of access to health insurance to provide affordable access to health care; the failure to validate health care protocols for Black people of African descent; and the failure to provide the appropriate medical treatment for critical health care symptoms which have resulted in higher rates of death for Black people of African descent compared to Caucasians exhibiting these symptoms. Finally, this injury area includes an examination of post-slavery stress syndrome, a developing area of investigation by Black mental health professionals of African descent.

Criminal Punishment – The enslavement of African peoples necessitated the development of a dual punishment system that continues to exist in the U.S. This dual system punishes Black people of African descent more harshly than Caucasians for the same conduct. Examples of the dual system were found from the period of enslavement through the Jim Crow era. The ongoing discrimination is most vividly evident with the continuation of disparate punishments for crack and powder cocaine (Black people of African ancestry are more frequently charged with possession of crack and certified to the federal system where a Caucasian person would have to possess 100 times more powder cocaine that crack cocaine to receive the same punishment. The result has been a disproportionately higher number of Black people of African descent being incarcerated for violation of the drug laws). In addition, Black people of African descent are subjected to racial profiling and the disparate imposition of the death penalty where Black men are more likely to be charged and convicted of a capital offense than a similarly situated Caucasian and particularly for killing a Caucasian.

Wealth/Poverty — The wealth gap between Black people of African descent and Caucasians created during the enslavement of African peoples has been sustained; confiscation of land and other forms of wealth continue up to present day. Black people of African descent were forced into poverty through enslavement, Jim Crow and continuing discrimination in employment, housing and other economic areas.