Tag Archives: Ta-Nehisi Coates

A Message for Ta-Nehisi Coates

(May 11, 2018) After The Atlantic published Coates’s “Case for Reparations” numerous mainstream media sources and politicians endorsed it, or at least commented sympathetically about it. As Coates’s analysis spread I noticed that he and his fanbase seemed to be unaware that Southerners have already paid  a form of reparations, if not for slavery then for losing the Civil War. I wrote letters to The Atlantic and some of Coates’s other media supporters, but none were interested in the facts summarized below.

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In short, the surrendered Confederate soldiers and their descendants had to pay their share of Federal taxes to fund some big Federal budget items that exclusively benefitted Union-loyal citizens and their descendants. If the Confederacy had been an independent sovereign and defeated nation, such payments would undeniably have been defined as reparations.

  1. Union Veterans Pensions totaled $8 billion by 1950 as compared to an estimated cost to the Federal Union of fighting the Civil War of $2.3 billion. In 1893 Union veterans pensions alone represented 40% of the entire federal budget. The annual disbursements  for such pensions did not top-out until 1921, which was fifty-six years after the war ended.
  2. Redemptions of the Federal debt, which was a debt that increased from $65 million at the start of the war to $2.7 billion at the end. Debt retirements represented about 17% of the cumulative Federal budget for the first 25 years after the War. All the debt was redeemed in gold although Northern investors typically purchased their bonds with discounted paper currency.
  3. Interest paid on the Federal debt totaled $2.3 billion during the first 25 years after the end of the War and represented 23% of the cumulative Federal budget.

Like the Union Veterans Pensions, payments for items two and three above also extended well beyond the first twenty-five years after the war . . . I just chose not to quantify them beyond that quarter-century mark.

All of the above is documented in my Southern Reconstruction book released last year. If you’d like to buy a signed copy for $29 please email me at phil_leigh(at)me.com. Unsigned copies are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other bookstores.


Two Authors That Became Rich and Famous

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(March 11, 2018) The YouTube interviews below are with two American authors who became rich and famous. The first is with Homer Hickam, who began writing novels in 1999 when he was fifty-six years old. Presently he has authored seventeen books, about half of which are novels. His best-known book is Rocket Boys, which was made into the 1999 movie, October Sky. Homer’s childhood was in Appalachia. You may learn more about his background in this two-and-a-half-minute video.

Nine Minute Interview With Homer Hickam


The second video interview is with Ta-Nahisi Coates who authored his first book, The Beautiful Struggle, in 2008 when he was thirty-three years old. Seven years later he released his second book, Between the World and Me, which won the National Book Award for non-fiction. In 2017 he released a collection of essays he had previously written for Atlantic Magazine during the Obama presidency, We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy. He has also written fictional stories for the Black Panther series of Marvel Comics.

Coates’s childhood was in a Baltimore ghetto. His Wikipedia article provides more background.  In addition to the National Book Award, Coates to date has won the Hillman Prize, National Magazine Award, George Polk Award and was made a fellow of the MacArthur Foundation with a generous stipend in 2015 that enabled him to move to Paris.

Eight Minute CBS Show About Ta-Nahisi Coates


Speaking Truth to Power

(June 18, 2017) By one definition a person is speaking truth to power when they “stick their head above the parapet and tell those in authority how it really is.” The Wiktionary similarly states the phrase means “to address facts to an authority,” presumably when such facts are overlooked by that authority.

Thus, in the spirit of speaking truth to power the genius de jour, Ta-Nehisi Coates, was praised three years ago for his magazine article suggesting that the United States pay reparations to African-Americans as compensation for slavery. There were, however, two ways that Mr. Coates was not really speaking truth to power in the context of the meanings above.

First, he was not an outsider. Coates was a regular columnist at The Atlantic, which is among America’s most venerable periodicals. The mainstream media almost universally praised his reparations essay. He followed it a year later with perhaps the thinest non-fiction book to ever win the National Book Award. That led to a McArthur Foundation award, which granted him $125,000 annually over five years ending in 2021.

Second, the most significant unnoticed fact among Coates and his power elite is that former Confederates and their descendants have already paid a form of reparations, if not for slavery, then as a consequence of losing the Civil War. It should not be assumed that the Southern states escaped reparations-equivalent penalties merely because they were readmitted to the Union.

As the preceding table illustrates, more than half of federal tax revenues for twenty-five years after the Civil War were applied to three items, which exclusively benefitted Northerners although former Confederates were required to pay their share of the taxes needed to fund them. If such items as interest on the federal debt, budget surpluses, and Union veterans benefits were paid by an independent defeated foe, they would undeniably been classified as reparations.

The budget surpluses were used to repay federal war debts, which had jumped 40-fold from $65 million at the start of the Civil War to $2.7 billion at the end. The debt took the form of federal war bonds, which were held exclusively by Northerners. In addition to helping to pay off the bonds without owning any of them, Southerners were burdened with another penalty linked to federal bond policies.

Specifically, a law adopted four years after the Civil War required that federal debt be redeemed in gold. During the war, however, the great majority of investors used paper money, which traded at a discount to gold, to buy the bonds. The discount got to be as much as 63%—meaning that a paper dollar was worth only thirty-seven cents—after General Grant sustained heavy casualties in 1864 only to be stalemated at the siege of Petersburg. Similarly, interest on federal war bonds was also paid in gold.

Since the bonds and interest had to be paid in gold, the amount of paper money required to pay them off was larger than the face amounts of the bonds and their interest coupons. The difference was an extra cost to the taxpayer but a sizeable bonus to the bondholder, none of who were former Confederates.

Additionally, former Confederates derived no benefit from generous federal spending on Union veteran pensions. Ex-Rebel soldiers could only collect much smaller pensions from their respective states. Union veteran pensions were originally paid only to soldiers who had sustained disabling injuries during military service, but Republicans gradually expanded eligibility in order to cement veterans as one of the Party’s chief voter constituencies. In 1904 any Union veteran over age 62 was regarded as disabled thereby transforming the program from a disability assistance platform into an old age retirement system. In the 1893 such pensions represented an astounding 40% of the federal budget.

By 1917 Union veterans and their dependents had collected about $5 billion in pensions, which was more than double the amount spent to fight the war by all of the Northern state governments and the federal government combined. Annual spending on Union veteran pensions did not peak until 1921, which was over 55 years after the war had ended. By 1950 cumulative pension spending had totaled $8 billion, which exceeded three times the amount spent to fight the war. The last pension check was paid in 2016.

Demonstrating that Southerners have already paid reparations is a more valid example of speaking truth the power than is Coates’s “The Case for Reparations” for two reasons. First, the historical facts document that the payments have already been made. Second, those facts are truly overlooked by the zeitgeist in power, of which Coates is a himself member instead of an outsider.

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