In an effort to make financial amends to black Americans for centuries of slavery, Democrats on a House Judiciary subcommittee will hold hearings on reparations next Wednesday.
Marking the first discussion on compensating descendants of slaves in more than a decade, actor Danny Glover and Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of “The Case for Reparations,” are reportedly scheduled to testify before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.
The hearings intended purpose, the Associated Press reported Thursday, will be to “to examine, through open and constructive discourse, the legacy of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, its continuing impact on the community and the path to restorative justice.
The June 19 hearing “coincides with Juneteenth, a cultural holiday commemorating the emancipation of enslaved blacks in America.”
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) reintroduced a reparations measure earlier this year and initiated next week’s hearing.
Former Democratic Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, who resigned from Congress in 2017 amid multiplying allegations that he sexually harassed former employees, first proposed legislation for a study of reparations in 1989. He reintroduced the bill every session until he resigned.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in addition to nearly every Democrat running for president, has endorsed Jackson Lee’s bill. Pelosi said in February she supports a bill that would establish a commission to study and consider reparations for African Americans regarding slavery and tied studying reparations to a litany of other issues involving inequality, including affordable education and healthcare.
The bill would create a commission “to study the impact of slavery and continuing discrimination against African-Americans, resulting directly and indirectly from slavery to segregation to the desegregation process and the present day,” Jackson Lee wrote in a statement.
When introducing the legislation in January, Lee explained the Commission to Study and Develop Reparations Proposals for African Americans Act “would also make recommendations concerning any form of apology and compensation to begin the long delayed process of atonement for slavery.”
“The impact of slavery and its vestiges continues to effect African Americans and indeed all Americans in communities throughout our nation,” Jackson Lee said. “This legislation is intended to examine the institution of slavery in the colonies and the United States from 1619 to the present, and further recommend appropriate remedies.
“Since the initial introduction of this legislation, its proponents have made substantial progress in elevating the discussion of reparations and reparatory justice at the national level and joining the mainstream international debate on the issues. Though some have tried to deflect the importance of these conversations by focusing on individual monetary compensation, the real issue is whether and how this nation can come to grips with the legacy of slavery that still infects current society. Through legislation, resolutions, news, and litigation, we are moving closer to making more strides in the movement toward reparations.”
Regardless of the progress of African-Americans in the private sector, education, and the government in addition to “the election of the first American President of African descent,” Jackson Lee argued, “the legacy of slavery lingers heavily in this nation.”
“While we have focused on the social effects of slavery and segregation, its continuing economic implications remain largely ignored by mainstream analysis,” she continued. “These economic issues are the root cause of many critical issues in the African-American community today, such as education, healthcare and criminal justice policy, including policing practices. The call for reparations represents a commitment to entering a constructive dialogue on the role of slavery and racism in shaping present-day conditions in our community and American society.”
New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker, a 2020 presidential candidate, has introduced a companion bill that would study the possibility of reparations for descendants of slaves to combat “white supremacy.”
“This bill is a way of addressing head-on the persistence of racism, white supremacy, and implicit racial bias in our country,” Booker said in April. “It will bring together the best minds to study the issue and propose solutions that will finally begin to right the economic scales of past harms and make sure we are a country where all dignity and humanity is affirmed.”
Slavery reparations for black Americans is backed by nearly all the Democratic presidential contenders, including Sen. Kamala Harris of California, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, who served as housing secretary under President Barack Obama, South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, and businessman and entrepreneur Andrew Yang.
Former vice president Joe Biden has avoided addressing the issue of reparations since announcing his 2020 presidential bid, but the Washington Post uncovered a 1975 interview with then-Senator Biden that opposed slavery reparations and school busing.
He told the reporter, “I don’t feel responsible for the sins of my father and grandfather, I feel responsible for what the situation is today, for the sins of my own generation. And I’ll be damned if I feel responsible to pay for what happened 300 years ago.”
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