Reparations means making amends for a wrong that has been done to someone(s). In the case of reparations to African Americans, it means first acknowledging the wrong that was done to enslaved Blacks and the wrong that has been done in the years since the end of slavery through other forms of wrongdoing, including Jim Crow laws of segregation, redlining, barring Blacks from Social Security, the GI Bill, loans for buying homes, and other forms of support readily available to whites.
Secondly, reparations means making financial restitution to descendants of slaves and Blacks who have suffered under the subsequent forms of exploitation with the goal of decreasing the wealth gap between Blacks and whites, and the ultimate goal of reconciliation between Blacks and whites.
During the last three years, one of the areas that the Anti-Racism Team was hearing and reading about was reparations owed to African Americans. The team sponsored a church study on the subject led by Dr. Lewis Brogdon in the fall of 2019.
In 2020, with the killings of several Blacks, including Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, and the protests that followed for months, here in Louisville and across the nation, the Anti-Racism Team wondered how to engage more fully.
Further, three figures in Highland’s sanctuary, stained-glass windows had been enslavers. Therefore, leaders of the Anti-Racism Team approached Ministry Council in August 2020 with the proposal to form a task force to research ways to handle these figures in the windows. After Ministry Council approved the formation of such a task force, team leaders met with ministers to discuss extending the work of the task force to study reparations and make proposals to pursue such work. Ministry Council accepted this change in September, and the Reparations Task Force began its work in October 2020.
Click here to see a copy of the Reparations Task Force Job Description
Click here to see a Glossary of key terminology related to reparations
History Report: “Grant Us Wisdom, Grant Us Courage: A Historical Summary of Highland Baptist Church; Louisville, Kentucky; and Race, 1893–2021”
Black voices were telling white people to examine their history and take action. In response, we felt it important to research and write a history report of the church and Louisville regarding race. A copy of the Full Report can be found here. A Summarized Version of the report can be found here.
While some task force members did the research for the history, others researched the figures in Highland’s stained-glass windows. This research was used as the task force, over several months, discussed the figures, and finally narrowed the “problematic” figures to four. The windows report may be viewed here.
Initial Recommendations submitted to Ministry Council (May 2022) and the congregation (August 2022)
Read more about the origination and history of our reparations work through this report that the task force submitted to the congregation in August 2022 here.
Approaching Reparations at Highland
We originated a four-part approach to reparations for the needs of our church.
- Confession—White people do well to confess the sin of white supremacy on an ongoing basis.
- Symbols and Imagery—The church needs to address the enslavers in the stained-glass windows as well as in another series of painted windows in the building.
- Financial Commitments—How much financial repair might we offer and to whom?
- Advocacy—The church must engage the continual work for the study of and commitment to reparations at a federal and local level.
We pray that Highland will keep running the race that is set before us, knowing that we do well to consider carefully and together each best next step for our church family. We believe that life in the beloved community preserves dignity for all of God’s children, especially for our Black siblings.
In this way, our collective participation in the transforming work of love—in our own lives as well as in society’s systems—promotes God’s justice and peace. Our commitments and actions do not need to be grand sweeping gestures to manifest divine wholeness and compassion. Rather, we believe that each step toward liberation starts small, like a mustard seed.
Reparations and racial healing begin with each of us discerning and enacting that which is ours to do as together we courageously follow through on these commitments.
Pastors Mary Alice Birdwhistell and Lauren Jones Mayfield drafted this benediction to close various meetings and church-wide gatherings.
Friends, May God bless us with restless discomfort
in the work of reparations.
May God bless us with holy anger
at the injustices around us, and even within us.
And may God bless us with grief
to honor all that has been lost along the way.
Until we meet again,
May God continue guiding us toward liberation.
May Christ continue showing us the way of love.
And may the Spirit continue provoking us in this hard and holy work.
For even as this work challenges us, know that we are equipped and suited
precisely for it.
Articles, Books, and Other Resources (each item is a link to the source material)
Ta-Nehisi Coates, “The Case for Reparations,” The Atlantic, June 2014
Kelly Brown Douglas, “A Christian Call for Reparations,” Sojourners Magazine, July 2020
Nikole Hannah-Jones, “What Is Owed?” The New York Times Magazine, June 30, 2020
“Text of H.R. 40: Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act,” U.S. Congress
Andrew Gardner, “Ideas for Churches Studying the Need for Reparations”
Mark Wingfield, “This Progressive Church” Baptist News Global, December 2021
Robert P. Jones, White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity (2020)
William A. (Sandy) Darity Jr. and A. Kirsten Mullen, From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century (2020)
Please use this link for a more thorough bibliography.
Please contact the chair of the former Reparations Task Force Nancy Goodhue for more information.