A powerful group of civil rights and class-action lawyers who have won billions of dollars in court is preparing a lawsuit seeking reparations for American blacks descended from slaves.
The project, called the Reparations Assessment Group, was confirmed by Harvard law professor Charles Ogletree and appears to be the most serious effort yet to get American blacks compensated for 244 years of legalized slavery. Lawsuits and legislation dating back to the mid-1800s have gone nowhere.
"We will be seeking more than just monetary compensation," Ogletree said. "We want a change in America. We want full recognition and a remedy of how slavery stigmatized, raped, murdered and exploited millions of Africans through no fault of their own."
Ogletree said the group, which includes famed attorney Johnnie Cochran, first met in July and will hold its fourth meeting in Washington, D.C., later this month.
"This country has never dealt with slavery. It is America's nightmare. A political solution would be the most sensible but I don't have a lot of faith that's going to happen. So we need to look aggressively at the legal alternative," Ogletree said.
For now, there are more questions than answers in the planned litigation. Left to be determined are when the suit will be filed, exactly who will be named as defendants and what damages will be sought.
Ogletree declined to discuss specifics but said the federal government, state governments and private entities such as corporations and institutions that benefited from slave labor could be targets of the legal action.
"Both public and private parties will be the subject of our efforts," he said.
Ogletree said the Reparation Assessment Group includes attorneys Cochran and Alexander Pires, who won a $1 billion settlement for black farmers who claimed discrimination by the U.S. Department of Agriculture; Richard Scruggs, who won the $368.5 billion settlement for states against tobacco companies; Dennis Sweet, who won a $400 million settlement in the "phen-fen" diet drug case; and Willie Gary, who won a $500 million judgment against the Loewen Group Inc., the world's largest funeral home operators.
"This will be the most important case in the history of our country," Pires said Friday. "We all agree the suit has to tell the story of what slavery has done to blacks in America ...
"We are still suffering from slavery's impacts today," Pires said.