Long Overdue

The Politics of Racial Reparations

268 pages

September, 2009

ISBN: 9780814737415



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Charles P. Henry is Professor of African American Studies at the University of California at Berkeley. He is the author of many books, including Ralph Bunche: Model Negro or American Other? (NYU Press, 1999) and Culture and American Politics, winner of the Book-of-the-Year award from the National Conference of Black Political Scientists.

All books by Charles P. Henry

Ever since the unfulfilled promise of “forty acres and a mule,” America has consistently failed to confront the issue of racial injustice. Exploring why America has failed to compensate Black Americans for the wrongs of slavery, Long Overdue provides a history of the racial reparations movement and shows why it is an idea whose time has come.

Martin Luther King, Jr., remarked in his “I Have a Dream” speech that America has given Black citizens a “bad check” marked “insufficient funds.” Yet apart from a few Black nationalists, the call for reparations has been peripheral to Black policy demands. Charles P. Henry examines Americans’unwillingness to confront this economic injustice, and crafts a skillful moral, political, economic, and historical argument for African American reparations, focusing on successful political cases.

In the wake of recent successes in South Africa and New Zealand, new models for reparations have recently found traction in a number of American cities and states, from Dallas to Baltimore and Virginia to California. By looking at other dispossessed groups—Native Americans, Holocaust survivors, and Japanese internment victims in the 1940s—Henry shows how some groups have won the fight for reparations.

As Hurricane Katrina made apparent, the legacy of racial segregation and economic disadvantage is never far below the surface in America. Long Overdue provides an up-to-date survey of the political and legislative efforts that are now breaking the surface to move reparations into the heart of our national discussion about race.


  • Long Overdue offers one of the finest and most comprehensive discussions to date of the historical and international context for reparations claims on behalf of African Americans by explaining why reparations are rejected and describing the barriers facing those who ask for them.”

    Journal of American Ethnic History

  • “Henry’s work is really one designed to facilitate and urge political mobilization through a change in the culture and politics of reparations.”

    Journal of American History

  • “Henry offers a simply superb interrogation of the Black reparations movement that is distinguished by its attention to history, social movements theory, and global context. The case studies presented here provide contrasting examples of reparations in distinct time periods and highlight political mobilization on local, national, and international scales. Long Overdue compellingly illustrates how distinct demands for reparations have been historically articulated, how they have converged with Black nationalist thought, and how they have influenced the broader public discourse on race and racism. An essential read for a contentious debate.”

    —Michael Omi, co-author of Racial Formation in the United States: From the 1960s to the 1990s

  • “Reparations for the continuing legacy of American racism is the central civil rights issue of the twenty-first century. Henry’s bold and insightful Long Overdue provides a detailed examination of the current rationale for compensation to African Americans. Long Overdue skillfully explores the political debate and controversies surrounding reparations, and provides constructive suggestions for what the movement needs in order to achieve its policy objectives.”

    —Manning Marable, author of Let Nobody Turn Us Around