What Is a Black Life Worth?

Over the past four centuries, generations of black people have asked the question: What is a black life worth?

The answer to this question has been complex. But, lately, it is a question that bears asking due to the increasing amount of black bodies populating city streets and morgues.

The deaths of Ramarley Graham, Kendrick Johnson, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Oscar Grant, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Tarika Wilson, Rekia Boyd among countless others give the impression to blacks that a black life is worth nothing in this country. In each instance, none of these young people had to die and their killers received little to no punishment for their deadly actions. It is a painful reminder on how unjust our justice system is toward people of color and how it has become open season on young blacks.

From a historical standpoint, let's gain a better understanding of what a black life was worth in the antebellum South. We must first ascertain the worth of a slave, who was considered three-fifths of a person during this time in U.S. history. By 1860, a slave was worth about $130,000 in today's pricing. Depending on the skill set of a slave, their overall health, and their location, he or she could be worth more. Before the start of the Civil War, there were approximately 4 million Africans being enslaved in the southern states. Their overall worth to the Confederacy was close to $4 billion.

After Reconstruction, the South instituted the well known vagrancy laws called Black Codes, which eventually turned into a convict leasing system for former slave owners. The enforcement of these sclerotic laws led to an astronomical rise in the incarceration of former slaves in the South. As a result, chain gangs were created to allow prisoners to work outside prison walls. This practice of convict leasing allowed land owners and companies to pay varying fees to each state. It became a model for new revenue to be allocated throughout southern states. The monies acquired from this inhumane addiction gave southern states the capital they needed to rise from the ashes. Black bodies once again provided the free and often times deadly labor.

Fast forward to present day, the school-to-prison pipeline serves as a 21st century model for enslavement of blacks. Black men and women comprise close to 40 percent of the 2.3 million people currently incarcerated. There are more black men incarcerated today than were enslaved in 1850.The prison-industrial complex has become a booming business. The budget for the Federal Bureau of Prisons currently stands at $6.9 billion. Since 2010, there has been a steady increase in allocating funds for the building of prisons, prison personnel, and prison salaries. The War on Drugs has proven to be a successful program in destroying the fabric of black American identity. It is directly responsible for black bodies becoming the heartbeat of private prison companies to turn a substantial profit.

Funding for the Department of Education increased 2.5 percent to a gargantuan sum of $69.8 billion in 2013, but this money doesn't seem to reach those most vulnerable or account for after-school programs that are desperately needed in inner cities like Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, Oakland, and Baltimore where the mentality of the Wild Wild West runs rampant on a daily basis. The devastating combination of the War on Drugs and a lack of public school funding continue to decimate proud, predominantly black communities. Two months ago, 23 schools were closed in Philadelphia while the city was able to amass $400 million to construct a brand new prison. In Chicago, 49 schools are scheduled to be closed before the 2013 school year begins. There are numerous examples of these activities taking place nationwide.

Meanwhile, Historically Black Colleges and Universities continue to be underfunded and neglected by Presidential administrations. Under President Obama's leadership, HBCU's have received more money, but it pales in comparison to other institutions of higher learning.Recently, the Department of Education has denied access to Parent PLUS loans causing black students across the country to lose their education funding. The outcome from that decision meant HBCU's lost $150 million this past year, which led to a few historical HBCU's closing its doors for good.

The summation of historical facts and statistical data clearly shows that the prices of black bodies in America are worth more imprisoned, enslaved, and dead than educated.