Henry Louis Gates did the movement for reparations for African Americans a huge favor by producing his latest documentary now airing on PBS, “Reconstruction: America After the Civil War.” The two-part series confirms that the atrocities against Black people didn’t end with the abolition of slavery. Rather, the vestiges of the decades-long system of legalized racism, bigotry, violence and white supremacy are still apparent in the lives of Black people who, across generations, still suffer economically, socially, politically and educationally.
Gates’s film provides proof for the call for reparations that followed the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation 156 years ago. It offers convincing evidence as to why reparations should be considered a serious matter and a means by which the U.S. government and others can be held accountable to the descendants of Black people victimized by slavery and its aftermath in the U.S.
Former Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) saw it that way when he introduced bill H.R. 40 Commission on Reparations in 1989. When Conyers retired two years ago, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) picked up the mantle and reintroduced the bill. Last week, a companion bill was introduced in the Senate by New Jersey Senator and presidential candidate Corey Booker. Alongside them, the bill’s supporters also include Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and 36 other co-sponsors, mostly members of the Congressional Black Caucus. And several Democratic presidential candidates are expressing their support for reparations including Julian Castro, Beto O’Rourke, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, to some degree.
HR 40 establishes the Commission to Study and Develop Reparations Proposals for African Americans to examine slavery and discrimination in the colonies and the United States from 1619 to the present and recommends appropriate remedies.
In Booker’s announcement, he said he was “proud” to introduce legislation that “will finally address many of our country’s policies — rooted in a history of slavery and white supremacy — that continue to erode Black communities, perpetuate racism and implicit bias and widen the racial wealth gap.”
Despite the ongoing debate about reparations, Gates’s film holds nothing back and reveals the facts the American people were never taught as well as many of the findings the commission will seek. We are encouraged that conversation continues but anxious to see the legislation move forward. We also appreciate Mr. Gates, Jr. for telling the stories that some would have us forget.