On Wednesday, a House committee put forward an effort to create a commission that could examine how to provide black Americans with reparations for slavery.
The bill is commonly referred to as HR 40 and was first introduced in 1989 by former Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), Referring to the Civil War promise to provide newly freed slaves with “40 acres and a mule ”. This commitment was never fulfilled and was subsequently canceled by the US government.
Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee voted 25-17 to advance the legislation, with all Republicans opposed.
“Here we are today, marking for the first time in the history of the United States of America legislation that directly addresses the years and centuries of African-American slavery who are now the descendants of those Africans,” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), the bill’s new sponsor since Conyers retired in 2017, said Wednesday. “We ask people to understand the pain, the violence, the brutality, the chattel-ness of what we have been through.”
If passed, the bill would create a 13-member commission to study the lasting effects of slavery and racial discrimination, and would later present “appropriate remedies” to Congress. It is not known what these remedies would look like, who would be entitled to them or if they would have any financial value.
The bill would also include considerations for “a national apology on behalf of the people of the United States for the commission of gross human rights violations and crimes against humanity on African slaves and their descendants.”
Despite Wednesday’s vote, legislation still faces a steep climb to become law. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) Said he would consider putting the bill to a floor vote, but that could take time, according to the Washington Post.
The reparations case has long been a thorny political issue, and most Republicans and some Democrats remain firmly opposed to it.
“Listen, everyone knows how evil slavery was, as bad as it can be,” Representative Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the leading member of the House Judiciary Committee, said on Wednesday. “But it’s not something we should be passing.”
President Joe Biden pledged to tackle the country’s long history of racial inequality during his administration, and his recent $ 1.9 trillion stimulus package included tens of billions of dollars in aid which advocates say would significantly help low-income Americans and communities of color.
“We understand that we don’t need a study to act on systemic racism now,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in February. “He therefore wants to take action within his own government in the meantime.”
The bill comes to another inflection point for the country amid the Minneapolis trial of a former white police officer in the death last year of George Floyd, a black man; and following the shooting death earlier this week of 20-year-old Daunte Wright, a black man, during a traffic stop in Minnesota. The white policeman who shot Wright was charged with manslaughter.
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