This past week, I spent an entire evening watching a series on Civil War history — just one more program on the subject lately. These programs have helped prompt a national debate on the fact freed slaves were promised monetary reparations that were never paid, and on whether it is too late to remedy this wrong.

Proposed reparations was one topic of discussion on a recent Firing Line program with Sen. James Clyburn. He said the whole idea of individual payments was far too cumbersome and that determining fair criteria for allocating available funds would be almost impossible.

He and I are in agreement that a far better approach would be using those funds to address the most pressing of the problems facing blacks today such as poor schools and lack of access to adequate health care, to name just two.

Among the worst deprivations we inflicted on slaves were laws forbidding teaching them to read and write — a fundamental skill needed to navigate living in society. Following the Civil War, we confined their children to inferior, segregated schools. When the concept of “separate but equal” was put forth as the law, few schools, if any, met those criteria.

This continued until segregation was outlawed — an idea that would never work until neighborhoods were integrated as well. This was followed by bussing as a means of enforcing integration. This worked for a while but, in recent years, schools are becoming more segregated, not by law, but because housing and neighborhoods are gradually becoming less integrated.

Even where red-lining and landlords refusing to rent to minorities is illegal, I suspect it exists de facto and is largely responsible.

This is a huge problem and needs to be addressed. For some people, I believe the fear of minorities comes from lack of contact with them in circumstances that really allows everyone to become well acquainted.

We fear what we don’t know. Mixed classrooms help. Minorities may hold back from initiating close bonds for fear of rejection or triggering an unpleasant scene.

In many rural areas, there is an appalling lack of access to medical care. Some money should be used to set up mobile clinics to travel the backroads on a weekly schedule to treat those without means of travel to cities and larger towns for needed care. There should also be units providing dental and eye care.

Many inner city areas are similarly lacking and in need of either a mobile unit or storefront walk-in clinic. Many of the poor lack enough money to buy health insurance, so any universal care program would need provision for subsidized premiums. Granted, blacks aren’t the only group needing this kind of help.

Many rural areas, small towns, and inner-city neighborhoods also are food deserts, lacking in the opportunity to buy food necessary for a truly balanced, nutritious diet.

Many people lack the transportation needed to reach such opportunities, especially those elderly who are no longer able to drive. The same is true of access to pharmacies. Many have little or no access to fresh produce and fresh meat and dairy products. Their diet is mostly snack food sold by gas station convenience stores.

While children might get a good lunch at school, even breakfast in some places, this doesn’t answer the issue for their parents or what to do when school is out during the summer. Without a summer feeding program, many are hungry and ill fed.

Many rural areas and slums lack a public library or book mobile. Libraries now offer services such as classes on life skills, internet access, and a lending library for tools and other useful items.

Any or all of these proposed ideas would go a long way to remedying the problems blacks face because of lack of opportunity.

If enough reparation money were earmarked for creating these programs, they could go a long way toward putting things right.

Lenna Harding lived her first 20 and past 43 years in Pullman. A longtime League of Women Voters member, she served on the Gladish Community and Cultural Center board. She can be contacted at

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