A House Judiciary subcommittee held a hearing last week on the issue of slavery reparations, at which lawmakers promised to discuss and hopefully move legislation forward this summer.
The June 19 hearing, held by the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, focused on House Resolution 40, which would establish a commission to study the consequences and impacts of slavery and make recommendations for reparations proposals.
Sponsored by Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, H.R. 40 would create a commission of 13 members who would compile a report of findings and recommendations on the issue and send it to Congress.
Former Democratic Rep. John Conyers of Michigan had for decades attempted to introduce legislation on reparations, but was unsuccessful.
“The real issue is whether and how this nation can come to grips with the legacy of slavery that still infects current society,” Jackson Lee said when discussing the legislation earlier this year. “While we have focused on the social effects of slavery and segregation, its continuing economic implications remain largely ignored by mainstream analysis. These economic issues are the root cause of many critical issues in the African-American community today, such as education, health care and criminal justice policy, including policing practices.”
Acclaimed journalist and author Ta-Nehisi Coates and actor Danny Glover also testified at the hearing and shared their beliefs that reparations — once promised in the form of 40 acres and a mule — are long overdue.
The issue has become a recurring theme for Democrats ahead of the 2020 presidential election with candidates such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Cory Booker and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro each saying they favor reparations.
However, not everyone is on board with H.R. 40.
“Slavery ended more than 150 years ago,” said Donna Jackson of Project 21, a group of Black conservatives opposed to the legislation. “It doesn’t make sense to force people who didn’t own slaves to pay people who never were slaves and this reparations hearing is just another way to sow division and animosity among the races.
“Like Confederate statues, pandering to the Black community with promises of free money is a big political diversion,” Jackson said. “The best reparations for slavery is freedom — especially a free-market economy.”
However, Jackson Lee and others maintain that reparations should be dispensed.
“While we have focused on the social effects of slavery and segregation, its continuing economic implications remain largely ignored by mainstream analysis,” Jackson Lee said. “These economic issues are the root cause of many critical issues in the African-American community today, such as education, health care and criminal justice policy, including policing practices.”
Warren said the world currently is comprised of a system where if the average white family has $100, the average Black family would have only about $5.
“I support the bill in the House,” Warren said, adding that she welcomes a panel of experts to study and talk about different ways in which “we can as a nation do what’s right and begin to heal.”