TheGrio Daily

The Great White Heist

Episode 90

“Black taxpayers were funding the educational opportunities for whites, that was theft.” Reparations are often discussed only in terms of slavery and Michael Harriot explains that Black people being compensated for their contributions to America goes far beyond slavery.


[00:00:00] You are now listening to theGrio’s Black podcast network Black Culture Amplified. 

Michael Harriot [00:00:05] Hello and welcome to another episode of theGrio Daily. During Black History Month, we’ve been talking in previous episodes about history through the lens of South Carolina, which I consider the capital of Black America. In a sense, we don’t like South Carolina race theory or more critical race theory. CRT is a good acronym or or abbreviation for it, but today we’re going to be talking about reparations. And when most people think of reparations, they think of it in terms of slavery and being repaid or compensated for the labor that was performed during slavery. But I want to introduce you to another concept, and that’s why I want to welcome you to another episode of theGrio Daily, the only podcast that will tell you about The Great White Heist. 

Michael Harriot [00:01:17] Yeah, man. Like, when we think about reparations, we, you know, a lot of times we think about it in terms of slavery and the idea of reparations is being compensated for the work and the value and what our ancestors invested in this country without receiving a return on it. And for some reason, we limit that to slavery. And I think this is wrong. And I think it’s wrong for a couple of reasons why. The first reason is that slavery was wrong. But it was constitutional. The Constitution has provisions that even protected slavery. The 3/5 clause, the Constitution mandated that, like for the first 20 years, we ain’t even going to look at stopping the importation of enslaved Africans. So the Constitution by proxy, you know, protected slavery. And so it was not an unconstitutional endeavor. It, matter of fact, deputized every white person in America as a slave catcher because, you know, the fugitive slave clause, you know, said that if you want to be a part of this country, you got to recognize that, like wherever you are, like, slavery might not be legal in your state, but if somebody come here, they steal a slave if they escaped. Right. 

Michael Harriot [00:02:56] So every American had the obligation, the responsibility to be a slave catcher. It was constitutional. It was legal. So it’s kind of hard to say, hey, pay me for something that you legally did. But after slavery. That same economic theft continued. We always have to remember, and I pointed out for every episode that South Carolina was a majority Black state. And after the Civil War, even those people who were sharecropping, even those people who were still working on those plantations as laborers and the government was ensuring that they were being paid for a time at least. Even those people who started their own businesses, they were paying taxes. Like even if your landlord rip you off as a sharecropper, you pay taxes on the crops that you grew. Right. So in South Carolina because not working was literally illegal for Black people because of the Black Codes, because of vagrancy laws, the majority of African-Americans were employed. They were paying taxes. And because they outnumbered white people, the money that was creating the roads and the schools in South Carolina were being paid by Black people. 

Michael Harriot [00:04:40] But white people were getting the biggest benefit. In white people get the biggest benefit. After the Civil War, Congress passed a series of laws called land grants. And they said, look, you got to create these universities and you can’t, you know, give some of the money, most of the money to white people. Well, in the South. Segregation was the law. So what they did is they created separate institutions in South Carolina with South Carolina State. For Black people, they said, look, y’all can’t go to school with white people, but we’ll give you your own. Institution. And I say give I use that word loosely because, again, Black people were paying the taxes, but those were federal tax dollars. And so South Carolina state the only. Publicly funded college in that state was really coming from federal dollars. Well, there were seven state supported whites only college in that state at that time in South Carolina. So all of the white people who were in the minority who attended school, they got their choice of seven state funded colleges that were paid by their taxes. And all of the Black people who were the majority in that state, who attended K-through-12 schools and wanted to continue their education, had one choice. There was only one publicly funded university, and it wasn’t even paid for with South Carolina tax dollars. 

Michael Harriot [00:06:29] So Black taxpayers were funding the educational opportunities for whites. That was theft. And even when you talk about K-through-12 schools, Right. Those Black children who attended inferior schools didn’t have the same access to resources and education as white children, so they were funding the educational opportunities for white students. And the same is true for almost everything in when you went to the library. White There were public libraries that Black people, students, adults didn’t have access to theaters, water fountains, you know, certain neighborhoods like we paved, paid for the roads and the maintenance and the police departments. And we didn’t have access to those same municipal and state infrastructure that white people had to. We were funding better lives for white people. And the interesting thing about that is exemplified by the small town called Somerville. In the 1800s a company built a paper factory outside of this little small town. And this small town was 75% Black. Most of the Black people there worked at that paper factory, and it was considered a good job. In that 1930 census it shows that, like the Black unemployment rate was higher than the white unemployment rate. And what was interesting about that is that this district, two school district had two schools, one for white people, one for Black people. The Black children all across that county, some of them had to get across a river or a reservoir every day to get to school. 

Michael Harriot [00:08:41] When they got to school and they had to set a fire in a school in the little stove. Some people some kids drowned on the way to school because they didn’t have transportation. Meanwhile, that white school had 30 school busses. Provided for by taxpayers, provided for by that 75% more employed tax base. Right. So those students not only had better schools, they had better transportation to get to school. It was easier for them to learn than it was for the Black students. And so some of the Black parents got together and said, hey, man, this ain’t right. And they went to that school district. And they asked him, “Hey, you got 32 school busses, can we have one of them? Like, we’ll fix it up. Give us your worst one. We’ll fix it up.” And that school district thought about it and said, you know what? Right is right. Wrong is wrong, but. Nah, we ain’t gonna do it. Like, I don’t understand what the difference between 32 and 31 school busses is, but apparently there is one. The white people said no, The Black people decided to sue. So when they invited this lawyer down, people said he was good. Nobody really knew. But this lawyer came down and he said, “Man, I’m gonna help ya’ll. I’m gonna sue, ya’ll. I ain’t gonna even charge.” And, you know, I don’t know if he was a good lawyer or not. Some dude named Thurgood Marshall. 

Michael Harriot [00:10:19] Thurgood Marshall filed suit. And the suit was, you know, of course, in most law suits, if there is a group of plaintiffs, they choose the first plaintiff’s name to name the suit after. And the plaintiff in this suit was a family by the name of Briggs. The superintendent of education in that county was named Mr. Elliott. So Briggs versus Elliott was the first of five lawsuits that challenged the constitutionality of segregation in America. And though they went to the state court and then they eventually ended up at the Supreme Court and people in other states did it, too. I don’t want you to think that South Carolina was the first state that thought of segregation as unconstitutional. But they eventually combined all five of those lawsuits. And again, because of the way that the naming stuff works, they just called all five Brown versus Board of Education. And what Brown versus Board of Education said was not that you have to change things. But what it said was all of that stuff that you were doing previously was illegal because these people are taxpayers and you are stealing their money. 

[00:11:46] And that is the case for reparations. A better case because what the Supreme Court said was all of this time that you all were enacting, this system of Jim Crow was theft. And South Carolina was at the tip of that spear. And that is a good case for reparations. And that’s how I like to think of reparations, not just for slavery, but as compensation for a theft. And that’s why you have to stay tuned to this podcast, All Black History Month. That’s why you have to subscribe. That’s why you have to download that real app. And that’s why we leave you every week with a saying from Black America. And today’s saying is, “There’s two things I can’t stand. A liar and a thief. But somehow I’m supposed to love America.” We’ll see you next time on theGrio Daily. If you like what you heard, please give us a five star review. Download theGrio app. Subscribe to the show and share it with everyone you know. Please email all questions, suggestions and compliments to podcasts at 

Panama Jackson [00:13:10] You are now listening to theGrio’s Black Podcast Network. Black Culture Amplified. Coming this February, theGrio Black Podcast Network presents Dear Culture: Tru’ish Black Stories. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:13:25] When you think of sheer artistry, sheer creativity, the ability for someone to bring Black people together in the most fundamental ways, it’s, you know, I would say of my four, Randy Watson’s my number one. 

Michael Harriot [00:13:39] When the news about Ricky first broke, what I heard about it is the thing you hear about, you know, every time somebody Black dies that it was gang related. That means the police don’t know what happened. So they just said probably the gang’s probably, you know, the other Black dudes. 

Damon Young [00:13:56] When I think of a kilo, you know, I think about I think about how impressionable white people can be. I think about how, you know, if you watch that movie again, you know, he should’ve lost like three times. 

Panama Jackson [00:14:08] Where were you when you heard the story about them suckers getting served by waves, dance crew? 

Shamira Ibrahim [00:14:14] You know, it’s crazy that you mention this. So as a New Yorker, right, Everyone knows where they were on 911, right? You know, couple of years later, right. It’s 2003. Everyone hears about this crazy moment in a boxing ring because that’s where dancers duke it out. Right. In boxing rings. 

Panama Jackson [00:14:31] If you could say something to Ricky right now, what would you say to him? 

Monique Judge [00:14:36] Ricky, You should’ve never got that girl pregnant. You knew I had a crush on you. You should have with me instead. 

Panama Jackson [00:14:40] Moments in Black culture examined like never before. Join us each week as we dive into the Black moments that changed us. That changed the world. Make sure to subscribe to Dear Culture so you never miss an episode.