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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Conservatively Speaking: Freedom to freedmen

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When the Black community asks for policies or a specific Black agenda, we are consistently told by the powers that be that such is impossible and that they can’t possibly create policies that only benefit one group of people.

Cloaked under the guise of “equality,” for centuries politicians have placated to the Black community and provided the illusion of hope without substantive policies to provide such change.

In the last mayoral election in Indianapolis, a spark from podcast host Laron Anderson espousing that, without providing tangibles and a Black Agenda, that Black people should not vote. This idea became a community motto, and community-guided conversations with organizations like Concerned Clergy and Baptist Ministers Alliance and action meetings held by organizations like the Urban League’s African American Coalition of Indianapolis began to occur. As a result, the Black community was left with one candidate that provided a plan, while the incumbent, and subsequent winner, explained that “a rising tide lifts all boats.”

A rising tide only lifts boats that are afloat. If you are on the shore without a boat that tide could take you under.

This pervasive idea that if you provide betterment for those already situated in the middle and upper classes, then those who are struggling will benefit too, is an inadequate philosophy. I have sat back and watched Black community members be denied specific policies or tangible resources while also watching our tax dollars be given to specifically fund the legal aid for noncitizens.

With the dawn of a new administration, many Black Americans were hoping that President Joe Biden would fulfill many of his promises to the Black community. He stated, “You’ve always had my back and I’ll have yours,” and so we waited and once again watched.

We watched his first set of executive orders roll out. We watched him sign the Anti-Asian Hate Bill as a response to COVID-19 a year before Republican Sen. Tim Scott was finally able have the Emmett Till Antilynching Act passed.

I looked over Biden’s “equity plans” from each department and agency, specifically noting nothing tangible for Black people.

I even noticed that the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s plan stated that to decrease the racial homeownership gap they would increase “small dollar mortgages” to expand financing. But currently, home prices are at an all-time high, so I’m not sure how these types of solutions will provide any real tangible change.

But it wasn’t until I saw Vice President Kamala Harris headlining the Freedman’s Bank Forum that I knew we must increase accountability. In this speech, Vice President Harris and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen announced that $8.7 billion in federal funding will be provided for financial institutions serving “minority and underserved small business owners.” This was cause for alarm because utilizing the Freedmen’s Bank Forum to announce tangible financial resources for non-freedman — cloaked under the guise of equity for the Black community — is disheartening.

The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, more commonly known as the “Freedmen’s Bureau,” was created by an act in Congress in 1865 to assist in with the political and social reconstruction in the post-Civil War era. Spearheaded by President Abraham Lincoln, the sole purpose of this agency was to help formerly enslaved people transition to freedom and citizenship. The bureau was to provide food, shelter, clothing, medical services and land to displaced southerners, including newly freed African Americans, as well as to establish schools.

At its peak, the Freedmen’s Bureau fed millions of people, built hospitals, and provided medical aid, negotiated labor contracts for ex-slaves and settled labor disputes. It also helped former slaves legalize marriages and locate lost relatives and assisted Black veterans.

From this also came The Freedman’s Savings Bank, which was tasked with providing financial services, capital and programs to formerly emancipated slaves. The bank eventually closed through corruption of non-freedmen, which took most of the little money the newly emancipated people had earned.

In its prime, the Freedmen’s Savings Bank had over $57 million dollars from almost 70,000 emancipated freedmen (the fiscal equivalent today would be around $115 billion dollars).

This legacy that, if instituted today, could help decrease the racial wealth gap and help to grow, scale and build more Black businesses. This effort could be a piece of the tangibles we have been waiting for.
Instead of continuing such a heritage to a specific group of people, the current administration has decided to provide these funds to “minorities.” The term minority includes many different groups and is not specific to lineage of emancipated slaves.

What if we were able to attain the tangibles and specific policy we have been asking for today utilizing the framework provided from 1865? What if we pushed back on the current administration and advocated that the $8.7 billion does not go to “minorities,” but to the lineage of freedmen and the formerly emancipated slaves as President Lincoln and Congress intended?

While we are advocating to create or continue a conduit to improve the Black community we may be able to use this blueprint to finally gain the access and palpable resources to better our own communities.

Whitley Yates the director of diversity for the Indiana Republican Party, political commentator and JD candidate at IUPUI McKinney School of Law. You can email comments to her at whitleyyates@gmail.com.

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