I once taught US History. I had an exceptionally sharp student ask me whether all blacks deserved $25,000 in reparations for slavery. She came from a prominent family in our community, with deservedly high reputations for their numerous accomplishments. The parents still held daily family dinner to discuss whatever topics came to mind. I was often a recipient of such discussions.

I replied absolutely, once all persons deserving of reparations received theirs as well. I mentioned one of my wife's ancestors served in the 34th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War.  Two brothers enlisted with him. Both were killed. One was betrothed, planning to marry once he saved $300 of his Army pay and could provide her a home. As was the custom of the time, they remained chaste. After he was killed, she never allowed herself to be courted by another.

I asked if modern blacks should repay what they owed this couple. A wedding night, honeymoon, rewarding life, a chance to grow old with grandchildren. My student thoughtfully came to her conclusion. “There are some debts in history that just cannot be repaid.”

Our generation cannot compensate those who suffered as slaves. And they cannot repay those who gave them their freedom and preserved it for their posterity.

And so the intergenerational obligation remains intact. Everyone owes someone a debt never to be discharged. It can only be remembered, and honored, by living so as to place our descendants in debt to us.

Eric Johnson

Idaho Falls

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