DURHAM, NC (WTVD) -- In the audience and on stage at Duke Monday night sat African-American students, scholars and everyday residents whose ancestors never received their 40 acres and a mule.
It was the 19th-century federally ordered reparation for slavery; A way for newly-freed blacks to have an initial stake in the wealth of the nation. A debt many of these experts say is still owed. But to whom?
"Reparations for blacks who are descendants of those involuntarily brought to America and enslaved here," said Duke Sanford School of Public Policy professor William Darity.
Darity has been a long-time advocate of reparations for black Americans.
"If we had been given what was stated, well given to some and then taken, I do not believe we would have the problems that we had today," said Duke Departments of Economics and Political Science graduate student Amber Hendley.
NC Central professor Malik Edwards mapped out the legal case blacks could make in court.
"The injury to African-Americans has been clearly documented through research on disparities across contexts; whether its education, health, mortality."
Monday night's discussion came amid another widely-talked about reckoning of historical racial pain: The controversy about Confederate monuments such as Silent Sam at UNC-Chapel Hill and the fight over whether to rename historically-named buildings, like Duke's Carr building, because its namesake, Julian Carr -- while crucial to the school's legacy -- was a vocal white supremacist.
"You can almost see us getting rid of certain monuments, getting rid of names of those associated with white supremacy -- these are kinds of reparations. It's at least acknowledging some kind of wrong," said Joseph Winters, an assistant professor in Duke's Religious Studies and African-American Studies Departments.
Professor Darity respectfully disagreed.
"I don't think that's a very significant step given the magnitude of the kind of economic disparities that we observed in the United States," he replied.
Those would not be the only disagreements in this lively two-hour long town hall forum.
But one of the biggest looming questions left to be answered was whether the country is even capable of having this conversation given the current state of politics.