MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A heated discussion about race and history took place at the Shelby County Commission meeting Wednesday as members explored the possibility of reparations for slavery.
Members approved the funding of $5 million for a “feasibility study,” but not without disagreements.
“Personally, I see this resolution as un-American in a lot of ways,” said Brandon Morrison, Shelby County Commissioner. “I believe it would not help Black people, but rather it would hurt them. I think the money would be much better spent [on] workforce initiatives and finding ways to elevate.”
Commissioner Erika Sugarmon was not pleased with Morrison’s remark. “I’ve had grandfathers, a father, my daughter. We have generations that have served this country. Don’t dare say that I’m un-American.”
Shelby County — home to Memphis — isn’t the only community in America talking about reparations. Officials in Detroit, San Francisco, Asheville, North Carolina and Evanston, Illinois, have all taken steps toward giving money to the descendants of slaves.
While some county commissioners fear this would sharpen divisions between white and Black residents, others say it could uplift the community.
“This is not something that’s just gonna benefit Black folks,” said commissioner Charlie Caswell Jr. “The ripple effect of all of us prospering together equally in this county is what this study and this research are going to bring. It’s about studying what we have failed to address so we can move forward.”
According to the United States Census, African Americans make up 54.6 percent of Shelby County’s population and 64.6 percent of Memphis alone.