At a time of increased public interest in the history of slavery and reparations, a lawsuit from the 1870s offers important lessons about the impact restitution can make and about the limited power of payment alone.
In recent years, cases for and against reparations for slavery have received increased attention in the academy, in the media, and in Congress, where a hearing on H.R. 40 (a bill to establish a commission to study the subject and make recommendations) was held in 2019. This lecture explores the story of Henrietta Wood, a formerly enslaved woman who, in the twilight of Reconstruction, won the largest known sum ever awarded by a U.S. court in restitution for slavery. How did she survive slavery, twice, and hold a powerful former enslaver to account? Where does her story fit in the longer history of reparations claims? And what does it tell us about debates over reparations today? What difference did the victory make for Wood and her descendants?