Last week, legislators in the House Judiciary Committee voted to advance a bill that would establish a commission to propose ideas on how to redress the effects of slavery in the U.S.
H.R. 40, sponsored by Texas Representative Sheila Jackson Lee and named after the unfulfilled promise of “40 acres and a mule” for emancipated slaves, establishes the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans, which according to Congress.gov will “identify (1) the role of the federal and state governments in supporting the institution of slavery, (2) forms of discrimination in the public and private sectors against freed slaves and their descendants, and (3) lingering negative effects of slavery on living African Americans and society.”
The commission would also consider a “national apology” for the harms caused by slavery.
The vote comes three decades after the bill was first introduced. Renewed interest in the bill has arisen during the current nationwide reckoning with systemic racism and the continued oppression of Black people in the U.S.
“We’re asking for people to understand the pain, the violence, the brutality, the chattel-ness of what we went through,” said Rep. Jackson Lee. “And of course, we’re asking for harmony, reconciliation, reason to come together as Americans.”
The bill now moves to the House of Representatives for a vote, but faces opposition from Republicans and some Democrats. There is also doubt that the bill would pass the Senate where it would need 60 votes to move forward.
“Understanding that the compounding nature of racism has created a dynamic where Black people today must not only grapple with living in a country built on our sustained oppression, but also observe the modern manifestations in our daily lives,” said Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY).
Reparations proponents are divided over what form reparations could take but assert that the need remains to address the racial wealth gap and the continued effects of systemic racism.