October 25, 2009 Mercury News
As the public debate over health care reform continues, many African-Americans are concerned that the minority of voices loudly denouncing a public option might sideline the real reform their community desperately needs.
From the cradle to the grave, African-Americans have poorer health outcomes: African-American infant mortality is more than double that of whites; African-American women make up 70 percent of new HIV/AIDS infections; three times as many black Americans die from diabetes as white Americans; and the life expectancy for whites is 78 years, compared with 73 years for all African-Americans and less than 70 years for African-American males.
There is a correlation between health outcomes and health coverage. Black Americans are uninsured at more than 1ï»¿1/2 times the rate of white Americans. Though over 80 percent of blacks live in working families, only 53 percent of black Americans have employer-sponsored health insurance, compared with 73 percent of white Americans.
Given the climate for health care reform, it's time for the African-American community to cash the check promised to us.
Shortly after the end of the Civil War on Jan. 16, 1865, Union Gen. William T. Sherman issued Special Field Order 15, which promised "forty acres and a mule" to freed slaves. Knowing that their prosperity was tied to possession of land, more than 40,000 freed slaves began working the 400,000 acres abandoned by white owners in South Carolina, Georgia and the Sea Islands.
In July of the same year, Congress created the Freedmen's Bureau, and specifically, Circular 13 ordered agents to set aside forty-acre plots for freed slaves.
However, the land was quickly taken back when Andrew Johnson, who had replaced Abraham Lincoln as president, pardoned Confederate soldiers and turned the land over to them. Freed men were told the land no longer belonged to them, and they must reconcile with their old masters.
From then until today, civil rights activists continue to seek reparations for generations of African-Americans traumatized by the institution of slavery. The most notable voice was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who in 1962 called Gen. Sherman's promise "a check which has come back marked 'insufficient funds,' " and asked for "a check that will give (African-Americans) the riches of freedom and the security of justice."
Aside from land, health care is the commodity that African-Americans need to gain equal footing in the United States. President Obama said "close to 50 percent of all bankruptcies are caused because of a health care crisis." And the African-American community is in crisis.