Soundtracks For The Soul: Gil Scott-Heron | “Who’ll Pay Reparations on My Soul?”

It’s been a minute since I dropped a piece for the Soundtracks For The Soul series so, ta-da!

Here’s a soundtrack for ya soul bruh.

PAY what you OWE

As the Democratic primaries begin to ramp up, I’m starting to see candidates fine-tune their policy positions & political pitches to the masses.

One policy that has been on everyone’s lips lately is Reparations.

Reparations | 

The making of amends for a wrong one has done, by paying money to or otherwise helping those who have been wronged.

Now, of course, I support reparations 100%.

The question for me isn’t should America pay reparations to African Americans, but how should America go about doing so.

So let’s start there shall we.

In terms of actual legislation, I support H.R. 40, which is a commission to study and develop a reparations proposal for African-Americans.

In other words, H.R. 40 isn’t reparations, but it does answer the question as to how America should go about paying what has for so long been promised yet systematically denied.

H.R. 40 will also provide details and fill in the gaps a lot of folks have been trying to use to combat the idea of reparations. Details like;

How much is owed? Who gets what? Are we just giving black people money? 

H.R. 40 will fill in these gaps and answer the questions that are now used to make reparations for African Americans seem like a lofty idea, but it won’t answer a question that’s been lingering in black folks minds for generations…

A question Gill asked back in 1970…

Who’ll pay reparations on my soul?

Gil Scott-Heron
Cover at for Gil Scott-Heron’s Small Talk at 125th and Lenox

So to no one’s surprise, I’m not only bringing Gil Scott-Heron back to TGA, but I’m bringing another poem/song from his famed “Small Talk at 125th and Lenox” album with him.

I’ll share lyrics to the entire song/poem below as well as a Youtube clip of the song itself so you can get a feel for the soul that’s embedded in the song itself.

Who’ll Pay Reparations on My Soul?”

Who’ll pay reparations on my soul?

Many suggestions
And documents written
Many directions
For the end that was given
They gave us
Pieces of silver and pieces of gold
Tell me,
Who’ll pay reparations on my soul?

Many fine speeches (oh yeah)
From the White House desk (uh huh)
Written on the cue cards
That were never really there
Yes, but the heat and the summer were there
And the freezing winter’s cold
Now tell me,
Who’ll pay reparations on my soul?

Call my brother a junkie cause he ain’t got no job (no job, no job)
Told my old man to leave me when times got hard (so hard)
Told my mother she got to carry me all by herself
And now that I want to be a man (be a man) who can depend on no one else (oh yeah)
What about the red man
Who met you at the coast?
You never dig sharing,
Always had to have the most
And what about Mississippi,
The boundary of old?
Tell me,
Who’ll pay reparations on my soul?

Call my brother a junkie cause he ain’t got no job (no job, no job)
Told my old man to leave me when times got hard (so hard)
Told my mother she got to carry me all by herself
Wanna be a man that can depend on no one else (oh yeah)
What about the red man,
Who met you at the coast?
You never dig sharing;
Always had to have the most
And what about Mississippi,
The boundaries of old?
Tell me,
Who’ll pay reparations on my soul?

Many fine speeches (oh yeah)
From the White House desk (uh huh)
Written on the cue cards
That were never really there
Yes, but the heat and the summer were there
And the freezing winter’s cold.
Tell me,
Who’ll pay reparations on my soul?
Who’ll pay reparations?
‘Cause I don’t dig segregation,
But I can’t get integration
I got to take it to the United Nations
Someone to help me away from this nation
Tell me,
Who’ll pay reparations on my soul?

Educate Yo’ Self

As I said earlier, I support reparation 100%. In fact, reparations for black folks in America has been LONG overdue.

And when I say LONG overdue, I mean, LLLLLLOOOOOOOOOOONNNNNNNNGGGGG overdue.

*Quick History Tip*

Sherman’s Field Order No. 15 | 40 Acres & a Mule

William T. Sherman issued his Special Field Order No. 15, which confiscated as Union property a strip of coastline stretching from Charleston, South Carolina, to the St. John’s River in Florida, including Georgia’s Sea Islands and the mainland thirty miles in from the coast. The order redistributed the roughly 400,000 acres of land to newly freed black families in forty-acre segments.

On January 12th, 1865, Sherman and Stanton met with twenty black leaders of the Savannah community, mostly Baptist and Methodist ministers, to discuss the question of emancipation. Lincoln approved Field Order No. 15 before Sherman issued it just four days after meeting with the black leaders.

The order explicitly called for the settlement of black families on confiscated land, encouraged freedmen to join the Union army to help sustain their newly won liberty, and designated a general officer to act as inspector of settlements.

Rufus_Saxton,_Union_General
Rufus Saxton | October 19, 1824 – February 23, 1908.

Inspector General Rufus Saxton would police the land and work to ensure the legal title of the property for the black settlers. In a later order, Sherman also authorized the army to loan mules to the newly settled farmers. Hints the popular phrase we now know, 40 acres and a mule.

This land-redistribution order served as two purposes for the North;

  1. Punishing Confederate planters along the rice coast of the South for their role in starting the Civil War
  2. Solved what Radical Republicans, viewed as a major new American problem: what to do with a new class of free Southern laborers.

Knowing that the South wouldn’t cede this land willingly nor provide adequate resources to support these newly freed citizens, congressional leaders convinced President Lincoln to establish the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (later to be known as The Freedmen’s Bureau) on March 3, 1865, shortly after Sherman issued his order.

The Bureau helped support schools like this one at James’ Plantation, North Carolina to educate newly freed children. (Learn NC, University of North Carolina)
The Bureau helped support schools like this one at James’ Plantation, North Carolina to educate newly freed children. (Learn NC, University of North Carolina)

The Freedmen’s Bureau was authorized to give legal title for forty-acre plots of land to freedmen and white Southern Unionists. The immediate effect of Sherman’s order provided for the settlement of roughly 40,000 blacks (both refugees and local slaves who had been under Union army administration in the Sea Islands since 1861).

But the order was a short-lived promise for blacks. Despite the objections of General Oliver O. Howard, the Freedmen’s Bureau chief, U.S. president Andrew Johnson overturned Sherman’s directive in the fall of 1865, after the war had ended, and returned most of the land along the South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida coasts to the planters who had originally owned it.

FUCK ANDREW JACKSON. STRAIGHT UP.

Fast-forward to 2019, and the bill is in…

Check Please

I won’t share my arguments as to why I support reparations (at least not in this piece), but I will leave you guys with a piece written by one of my favorite writers that argues my stance on reparations brilliantly.

If you don’t support reparations I highly suggest reading Ta-Nehisi Coates piece in its entirety.

The Case for Reparations by Ta-Nehisi Coates | Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.”

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