Politics & Government

Reparations for slavery should be included in any new SC constitution, senator says

Any new constitution for the state of South Carolina should include reparations for the descendents of slaves, a Democratic state senator says.

State Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, said Monday he would push to include reparations in any discussion of changing the state’s 123-year-old constitution, as some of his colleagues in the S.C. Legislature have called for.

“If the door is opened for a constitutional convention, last amended in 1895 to systematically disenfranchise African-Americans, I plan to introduce the subject of reparations for the descendants of slaves who built this state providing free labor,” Kimpson tweeted.

Kimpson didn’t specify what form reparations should take. But activists long have argued African Americans deserve some kind of compensation for the generations their ancestors worked without pay or any chance to acquire wealth and property under slavery, leaving their descendants at an economic disadvantage.

Several freshmen legislators introduced legislation last week calling for a new constitutional convention. They said they want to move more political power to the governor from the Legislature. That move, they say, would increase accountability and break the hold of a few powerful lawmakers over state government.

But the overhaul effort quickly ran into trouble, as state Democratic leaders claimed the convention could be used to restrict women’s rights in the Palmetto State. Kimpson’s proposal adds another controversial wrinkle.

South Carolina’s current constitution was written in the aftermath of Reconstruction. In 1895, avowed white supremacist and then-U.S. Sen. “Pitchfork” Ben Tillman called a constitutional convention to enact “the sole cause of our being here,” namely to deny voting rights to blacks.

Tillman played on the fear blacks eventually could wield a powerful vote and, perhaps, win the governorship. The state’s governors have complained about their limited powers ever since.

From a slave to a congressman, Robert Smalls left an indelible mark on South Carolina and the United States. Two SC legislators are proposing a statue be erected at the State House.