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Atoning for America's original sin of slavery

An excerpt from Ta-Nehisi Coates' speech at Loyola University of Maryland on January 19, 2015. (Algerina Perna/Baltimore Sun)

Commentator W. F. Twyman Jr. is entitled to his attitude toward the sins of slavery, but his snide comment about “reparations rhetoric” requires a response (“Slavery: Let it go,” Nov. 1).

According to Forbes magazine, since 1983, black and Latino families have seen their wealth fall considerably, from $6,800 and $4,000, respectively, to just $1,700 and $2,000 in 2013. Meanwhile white households boasted a median wealth of $116,800 in 2013.

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The residual effects of slavery on this astounding gap may be hard to calculate, but more recent injustices play a huge role. The establishment of redlining in federal housing aid programs instituted during the Great Depression and extended after World War II directly diminished opportunities to build wealth. The effects of these injustices are the results of more recent government action, and they are not beyond reasonable estimation.

We also have continuing housing and wage discrimination. We have gaps in funding public education and other critical services that facilitate the opportunity to build wealth.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates has written a truly illuminating book, Between the World and Me, which is of particular interest as the author recounts episodes from his youth in West Baltimore. Both Mr. Coates and Mr. Twyman may have something to offer in terms of a personal reckoning with the sins of the past, but Mr. Coates has all the better of it regarding reparations.

Charlie Cooper, Baltimore

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