And why does a black activist group think the U. of Chicago should pay them reparations?

And why does a black activist group think the U. of Chicago should pay them reparations?
Stephen A. Douglas (Image: Library of Congress)

If you’re not up on the latest games that are played in the world of academe, a popular pastime is seeing how high you can make your school’s administration jump. The game actually started in the 1960s, with sit-ins, accompanied by lists of demands. Usually, the demands were calls for an end to war or for the release of some radical political dissident from a flea-bitten part of the world.

Of late the game has become more selfish, with lists that benefit one or another protected class, usually financially. More often than not, the aggrieved class is African Americans, who see themselves as having a particular ax to grind on account of some of them (though not all of them) having descended from slaves. (If you are Jewish or some other ethnicity that also descends broadly from slaves, you’ll have to fight your own battle.)

The new black version of the campus sit-in sometimes features threats of physical violence if students’ demands are not met. In 2014, for example, the Black Student Union at the University of Michigan (yes, there is a black student union there!) promised “physical” consequences if the university failed to meet their seven demands. More recently, the Afrikan [sic] Student Union at UCLA demanded a $40 million “safe space” as well as  “compensation for racially insensitive incidents.” Those included a Kanye West-themed party at one of the fraternities in which white students evidently dressed up in baggy pants or something.

One school that has been particularly ripe for plucking is the prestigious University of Chicago, which can number among its alumnae such important personages as Barack Obama. Last week, an alliance of student groups at the school demanded a segregated orientation for incoming freshmen “of color.”

But that was small potatoes when compared with the latest attempts to extort money from the school. From Campus Reform:

A new group at the University of Chicago is demanding reparations for slavery.

The group, called “Reparations at UChicago Working Group,” or RAUC, recently wrote a piece in the Chicago Reporter, titled “A case for reparations at the University of Chicago,” arguing that the university must do more for black people due to the historical debt of slavery.

“This cannot be a question of what the university will do for black communities. It must be a function of what black communities demand as payment to forgive an unforgivable debt,” they write. “Black people do not need a seat at the university’s reparations table. They need to own that table and have full control over how reparations are structured.”

The article also argues that “[e]stablishing an African American Studies department should be a no-brainer,” as should “a concerted effort to recruit and develop faculty of color while vigorously recruiting and mentoring underrepresented students to attend the university.


“Reparations promise us a monumental re-birthing of America. Like most births, this one will be painful. But the practice of reparations must continue until the world that slavery built is rolled up and a new order spread out in its place.

If these people are looking to “roll up” “the world that slavery built,” they may want to focus some of their attention on their African homeland, which as the map below shows is still a hotbed with slavery to this day.

Image courtesy of Max Fisher/The Washington Post

But I digress. Why exactly does RAUC believe the University of Chicago is indebted to them to the tune of millions of dollars? For an answer to that question, you need to go back to the source, to the article at The Chicago Reporter alluded to and linked to above.

The piece opens with the lamentable case of a woman named Julia Leakes, a slave owned by Stephen A. Douglas. It goes on to state:

The University of Chicago does not exist apart from Julia Leakes and the suffering of her family — it exists because of them. Between 1848 and 1857, the labor and capital that Douglas extracted from his slaves catapulted his political career and his personal fortune. Slavery soon provided him with the financial security and economic power to donate ten acres of land (valued at over $1.2 million in today’s dollars) to start the University of Chicago in 1857.

A couple of problems. First, the University of Chicago that Douglas ceded land to was a different University of Chicago from the one that exists today and from which RAUC is trying to extract money. According to Wikipedia, the original University of Chicago — which was also known as Chicago University and, after its closing, as Old University of Chicago — was affiliated with the Baptist church in Chicago from 1857 through 1886.

The present-day University of Chicago, which was established in 1890 — four years after the original college closed — is legally a separate institution. Eventually, the current university recognized Old University alumni as its own, but for all intents and purposes, the two schools remain distinct entities.

More importantly, the whole argument advanced by RAUC is absurd on its face. Even those foolish enough to believe that reparations is somehow justified should see this claim for the shakedown it is.

Howard Portnoy

Howard Portnoy

Howard Portnoy has written for The Blaze, HotAir, NewsBusters, Weasel Zippers, Conservative Firing Line, RedCounty, and New York’s Daily News. He has one published novel, Hot Rain, (G. P. Putnam’s Sons), and has been a guest on Radio Vice Online with Jim Vicevich, The Alana Burke Show, Smart Life with Dr. Gina, and The George Espenlaub Show.

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