A panel of US lawmakers has moved forward in a decades-long effort to pay reparations to descendants of slaves by passing legislation that would create a commission to study the issue.
After passionate debate, the House judicial committee voted 25-17 to advance the bill late Wednesday, marking the first time it has acted on the legislation.
The bill will now be considered by the House and Senate, but prospects for final approval remain slim in a tightly divided Congress.
The legislation would establish a commission to examine slavery and discrimination in the United States from 1619 to the present. The commission would then recommend ways to educate Americans about its findings and appropriate remedies, including how the government would offer a formal apology and what form of compensation should be awarded.
The bill, commonly known as HR 40, was first introduced by John Conyers, a Michigan representative in 1989. The 40 refers to the government’s failed effort to provide 40 acres (16 hectares) of land to newly slaves. released as the Civil War progressed. to its end.
“This legislation is long overdue,” said Jerrold Nadler, the committee’s Democratic chairman. “HR 40 aims to start a national conversation about how to address the brutal mistreatment of African Americans during slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and the enduring structural racism that remains endemic in our society today.”
The momentum that supporters have been able to generate for the bill follows the increased recognition of racism in a generation in the wake of George Floyd’s death while in police custody.
But the House bill has no Republicans among its 176 cosponsors and would need 60 votes in the evenly divided Senate to overcome a filibuster. Republicans on the judicial committee were unanimous in voting against the measure.
Jim Jordan of Ohio, the highest-ranking Republican on the committee, said the composition of the commission would lead to a foregone conclusion in support of the repairs.
“I spent $ 20 million for a commission that has already decided to take money from people who were never involved in the evil of slavery and give it to people who were never subject to the evil of slavery. That’s what the Democrats are doing on the judicial committee, ”Jordan said.
Supporters said the bill is not about a check, but about developing a structured response to historical and current mistakes.
“I ask my friends across the aisle not to ignore the pain, the history, and the reasonableness of this commission,” said bill sponsor Sheila Jackson Lee, a Democrat from Texas.
Other Republicans on the committee also spoke out against the bill, including Burgess Owens, an African-American lawmaker from Utah, who said he grew up in the Deep South, where “we believe in imposing respect, not digging or asking for it.”
But Democrats said the country’s history was filled with government-sponsored actions that discriminated against African Americans long after slavery ended. David Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat, said the Federal Housing Administration at one point refused to insure mortgages in black neighborhoods, while some states prevented Black Army veterans from participating in GI Bill benefits.
“This notion of, like, I wasn’t a slave owner. I have nothing to do with it, it loses its senses, ”Cicilline said. “It is about the responsibility of our country, to remedy this evil and respond to it in a thoughtful way. And this commission is our chance to do it. “
Last month, the Chicago suburb of Evanston, Illinois, became the first city in the US to offer reparations to its black residents for past discrimination and the lingering effects of slavery. The money will come from the sale of recreational marijuana, and qualifying homes will receive $ 25,000 for home repairs, down payments on the property, and interest or late-fee penalties on property in the city.
Polls have found long-standing resistance in the United States to reparations to the descendants of slaves, divided along racial lines.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism