Slavery was an abomination, corrupting both the enslaved and the enslavers. Given that we have the Modern Slavery Act, has there ever been a serious lawsuit seeking reparations for slavery? If so, by whom and when?

Jurisdiction, worldwide; but given its infamy, the United States in particular.


At the end of the American Civil War, four hundred thousand acres was taken from the former slaver owners along the coast of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, giving each free slave forty acres of land. This act of reparation was instituted during the then President Abraham Lincolns tenure but reversed by his successor, President Andrew Johnson after Lincolns assassination.

Thus, there is precedent for such an action.

2 Answers 2


Yes. American descendents of African slaves filed several lawsuits in the early 2000s seeking "monetary relief under both federal and state law for harms stemming from the enslavement of black people in America," i.e., reparations.

Those cases were consolidated into a single case heard in Chicago, where the judge ruled there was no standing to bring the cases, given the many degrees of separation between the defendants' conduct in the 1800s and the 21st Century plaintiffs. The Seventh Circuit affirmed:

If there were a legal wrong, it would not be a wrong to any living persons unless they were somehow the authorized representatives to bring suits on behalf of their enslaved ancestors. With some exceptions to be noted, the plaintiffs are suing to redress harms to third parties (their ancestors), without being authorized to sue on behalf of those parties. It is like a suit by a descendant of a Union soldier, killed in battle, against a Civil War era gun manufacturer still in business that sold guns to the Confederacy in violation of federal law. A federal court could not entertain the suit because the plaintiff would be unable to prove a harm to an interest of his (such as his bank account) that the law protects.

In re African-Am. Slave Descendants Litig., 471 F.3d 754, 760–61 (7th Cir. 2006).

The Seventh Circuit permitted one very small portion of the case to proceed, and the Supreme Court declined to review the case.



In 2002, descendants of 19th century African-American slaves filed nine lawsuits seeking reparations from corporations. Plaintiffs allege the corporations have ties to the trans-Atlantic slave trade and were unjustly enriched from the labour of African-American slaves. The court held that these claims raised political questions and were therefore beyond the scope of the federal judiciary.

So it was dismissed.

There are similar lawsuits about other issues,


Lanier says that Harvard has no rightful claim to the images of Renty or his daughter, Delia, forced to strip naked and pose for a demeaning pseudoscientific study. Lanier argues that in refusing to acknowledge Lanier's claim to the photos, Harvard is "perpetuating the systematic subversion of black property rights that began during slavery and continued for a century thereafter."

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .