That class of organizations can include cities and schools, as well as churches, the military and even corporations. Thus far, reparations payments from such actors — whether realized or promised — have totaled in the tens of millions of dollars. And it could be just the beginning. All politics is local; for now, so are reparations.

The two institutions leading the way took very different approaches. In 2015, Chicago enacted a reparations ordinance covering hundreds of African Americans tortured by police from the 1970s to the 1990s. The law calls for $5.5 million in financial compensation, as well as hundreds of thousands more for a public memorial, and a range of assistance related to health, education and emotional well-being. Then, last spring, students at Georgetown University voted to create a fund that would raise $400,000 annually to benefit the descendants of almost 300 enslaved people sold by the college in the 1830s.

A few dozen torture victims. A few thousand descendants of a slave sale. The numbers are not statistically significant in the context of the millions descended from enslaved African Americans. One form of reparations offers restitution for living victims who suffered in the recent past. The other focuses on descendants many generations removed from the original injury. In Chicago, survivors received direct financial awards; at Georgetown, the money will be spent on charities and other indirect benefits.