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As the only black girl in her elementary school class in Alaska, Dorothy Benton Lewis was given racist lectures on the “benefits of slavery.” Now, for more than three decades, Lewis has led a movement demanding reparations for descendants of slaves, redress similar to the multi-billion-dollar settlement Germany began paying Holocaust survivors in the ’50s. In 1978, Lewis began self-publishing the Black Reparations Now! series of four books detailing the restitution quest. Last year, the Potomac, Md., resident became co-chair of the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (N’COBRA), a 10-year-old, 4,000-member organization that plans to launch a class-action suit against the U.S. government at the dawn of the next millennium.

Would N’COBRA be willing to accept items other than cash in the reparations movement, and if so, what?

We would be willing to accept—in addition to cash—tax rebates, a moratorium on taxes, businesses in our community, universal education, land, resettlement in other countries. We see the reparations settlement as multifaceted. The reparations settlement would have to address the diverse needs of our people and therefore would have to be a diverse settlement.

Do you believe that the projected surplus in the U.S. budget is in any way a boon to your chance of receiving reparations from the U.S. government?

It’s certainly more favorable than a deficit. Not that it should be any of our concern. We have a bill that the U.S. government must pay, no matter what the economic conditions are. Just like the IRS expects us to pay no matter what our economic condition is.

How do you respond to people who think your mission to get reparations for African-Americans is a waste of energy?

American history as it is taught in U.S. schools is white history and a whitewash of white history covering up their crimes against African and Native American people. So the people who come here are fed a bill of goods, and they come out with an opinion that matches the status quo to continuing covering up crimes that need to be accounted for and paid for. I feel sorry for them, and would like to help educate them. —Nefretiti Makenta