“The Case for Reparations” is an essay written about the history and possibility of reparations for slavery in the United States, particularly through the lens of the housing crisis, with Chicago used as a specific example for how the histories of slavery, race, and economics are all deeply interconnected. Written for the magazine journal The Atlantic, Coates’ June 2014 piece is credited for re-starting national debate over the possibility of reparations.
The history and call for reparations are not new, nor is it limited to African-American communities, a point Coates makes clear in his article. It is important to note, however, that the article is not comprehensive, and instead focuses on housing policy as a way to understand how so much of what makes up the United States, like its economy and its neighborhoods, was built on the exclusion of African Americans. In fact, Coates has even said that his main goal for the article was not to see reparations happen but instead to get people to take the idea seriously. In 2019, half a decade after its publication, on Juneteenth (June 19th, a holiday commemorating the day when the last enslaved people in the US were notified of their emancipation), Coates testified at a House hearing on bill HR 40, a bill that would begin a commission on the study of reparations, the first conversation of its kind in over a decade.