Black Manifesto

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The Black Manifesto was a 1969 manifesto that demanded $500 million in reparations from white churches and synagogues for their participation in the injustices of slavery and segregation committed against African-Americans.[1][2]


The manifesto was developed during the National Black Economic Development Conference held in Detroit, Michigan, in 1969.[3][4][5] American civil rights activist James Forman presented the first draft of the manifesto on April 26, 1969, receiving the support of the conference in a 187-63 vote of delegates.[3][6]


The manifesto made the argument that much of America had been built with black slave labor, and that churches and synagogues had implicitly played a role in facilitating that process.[7][8] Its opening paragraph read:

We the black people assembled in Detroit, Michigan for the National Black Economic Development Conference are fully aware that we have been forced to come together because racist white America has exploited our resources, our minds, our bodies, our labor. For centuries we have been forced to live as colonized people inside the United States, victimized by the most vicious, racist system in the world. We have helped to build the most industrial country in the world.[4]

The text of the manifesto demanded $500 million in donations from churches and synagogues, to be routed to a specific group of organizations, some of which had yet to be formed. The largest demand was for the creation of a $200 million land bank in the American South, in order "to help our brothers and sisters who have to leave their land because of racist pressure for people who want to establish cooperative farms".[9][4] $40 million was to be divided equally among four publishing and printing companies serving the black communities of Detroit, Atlanta, Los Angeles and New York.[9] Four television networks, meant "as an alternative to racist propaganda" were to be established with $10 million each, in Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland and Washington, D.C.[9] $30 million would go to the establishment of a research center into the social problems faced by African-Americans.[9] $130 million was designated to begin a black university in the American south.[9]


Forman presented the manifesto to the public on May 4, 1969 at New York City's Riverside Church, interrupting a Sunday service to do so.[2][10][11] The day earlier, Forman had requested and been denied permission to speak, by the minister Rev. Dr. Ernest Campbell. Trying to prevent Forman's speech, Campbell directed the organist to play and also began a silent walkout of congregants.[12][13] The church obtained a civil restraining order against Foreman the same week.[13][14]

The manifesto was also read out loud on May 4 at the First United Presbyterian Church of San Francisco.[15] It was later published in the July 10, 1969 edition of the New York Review of Books.[4]


The manifesto's demands were ultimately rejected by most churches and synagogues.[11] A few churches made donations to the organizations mentioned in the manifesto, and several reassessed their processes to ensure equal opportunity to people of color.[11] On August 29, 1969, Time magazine wrote that "Since Forman first issued his arrogantly worded 'Black Manifesto' in Detroit last April, only an estimated $22,000 has trickled into the coffers of his National Black Economic Development Conference. Forman's demands have been successful, however, as a catalyst in moving churches to examine their consciences."[16]


  1. ^ Cressler, Matthew J.; Banks, Adelle M. "Reparations and Religion: 50 years after 'Black Manifesto". ABC News.
  2. ^ a b Gavins, Raymond (15 February 2016). The Cambridge Guide to African American History. Cambridge University Press. pp. 32–33. ISBN 978-1-107-10339-9.
  3. ^ a b Shearer, Tobin Miller (November 2010). Daily Demonstrators: The Civil Rights Movement in Mennonite Homes and Sanctuaries. JHU Press. p. 190. ISBN 978-0-8018-9943-0.
  4. ^ a b c d "Black Manifesto". The New York Review of Books. 10 July 1969.
  5. ^ "Black Manifesto · The Special Program". Archives of the Episcopal Church. The Church Awakens: African Americans and the Struggle for Justice. Retrieved 17 August 2020.
  6. ^ Cressler, Matthew J.; Banks, Adelle M. (3 January 2020). "Decades after 'Black Manifesto,' religious groups take up reparations again". Urban Faith.
  7. ^ Dye, Keith (2009). "The Black Manifesto for Reparations in Detroit: Challenge and Response, 1969". Michigan Historical Review. 35 (2): 53–83. doi:10.1353/mhr.2009.0048. ISSN 0890-1686. JSTOR 25652179.
  8. ^ Aguiar, Marian. "Black Manifesto". Oxford African American Studies Center. doi:10.1093/acref/9780195301731.013.40341 (inactive 31 December 2022).{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: DOI inactive as of December 2022 (link)
  9. ^ a b c d e Asante, Molefi Kete; Mazama, Ama; Cérol, Marie-José (2005). Encyclopedia of Black Studies. SAGE. p. 129. ISBN 978-0-7619-2762-4.
  10. ^ Bedau, Hugo Adam (2005). "Compensatory Justice and the Black Manifesto". In Roberts, Rodney C. (ed.). Injustice and Rectification. Peter Lang. p. 131. ISBN 978-0-8204-7860-9.
  11. ^ a b c Watkins, Keith; Kinnamon, Michael K. (2014). "Responding to the Nation's Deepening Distress". The American Church that Might Have Been: A History of the Consultation on Church Union. Wipf and Stock Publishers. p. 99. ISBN 978-1-63087-744-6.
  12. ^ "Jim Forman delivers Black Manifesto at Riverside Church". SNCC Digital Gateway.
  13. ^ a b "The Black Manifesto at The Riverside Church". Riverside Church. 30 April 2019.
  14. ^ Fiske, Edward B. (10 May 1969). "Forman Burns Writ On Church Disorder; Forman Burns a Court Order Barring Disruption in Church". The New York Times.
  15. ^ "'Black Manifesto' Declares War on Churches".
  16. ^ "Churches: Catalyst of Conscience". Time. 29 August 1969.

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