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House hearing on Juneteenth to hear reparations testimony for H.R. 40

in Government & Policy/Race and Ethnicity by

The current call for reparations for Blacks in the United States gets a bump up in legislative discourse with a hearing scheduled on Wednesday, July 19.

The House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties announced last week that it will hold a hearing to examine H.R. 40. If passed, the bill authorizes a commission to study the impact of slavery on one hand. While on the other side of the research, H.R. 40 aims to propose ways to compensate the descendants of slaves in the US and the residual discriminations endured after Emancipation.

Current chair of the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN), posted on Twitter:

Our country was built on the unpaid labor of enslaved Africans Americans. To this day, the lingering consequences of slavery & Jim Crow affect African Americans. If we want to address the racial wealth gap this has created, we need to have a real conversation about #Reparations.

A bill that attempted to garner more sponsors for 30 years, according to Cohen, once he became chair, he prioritized a hearing for the reparations study.

Initially, former congressman, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) introduced H. R. 3745 in 1989. The bill proposed to examine the institution of slavery and its subsequent racial and economic inequities. Then in 2017, Rep. Conyers re-introduced the bill as H.R. 40 to gain more sponsors. After his tenure, Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX) took over as the first sponsor.

Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX)

Earlier this year, Rep. Jackson Lee said:

“Today there are more people at the table — more activists, more scholars, more CEO’s, more state and local officials, and more Members of Congress.  However, despite this progress and the election of the first American President of African descent, the legacy of slavery lingers heavily in this nation. 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, healthcare and criminal justice policy, including policing practices. The call for reparations represents a commitment to entering a constructive dialogue on the role of slavery and racism in shaping present-day conditions in our community and American society.”

The House hearing on reparations, takes place on Juneteenth, the annual African-American holiday recognizing the last group of enslaved Blacks in Texas who were informed that they were free, two years after President Abraham Lincoln instituted the Emancipation Proclamation. Juneteenth started as a hyperlocal celebration, but branched out into a nationally recognized celebration where parades, conferences, dinners and gatherings take place.

Scheduled to be live streamed at 10 a.m. EST, the House hearing assembled a motley crew of persons to testify.

Scheduled to testify are actor Danny Glover, a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Decade for People of African Descent and longtime supporter of reparations; and Katrina Browne, a descendant of the largest slave owning family in the U.S. Browne made a documentary about her family’s slave holdings in “Traces of the Trade.”

HR R40 House hearing speakers to testify before panel.

Included in witnesses are Eugene Taylor Sutton, Right Reverend at Episcopal Bishop of Mary; law professor Eric J. Miller, Loyola Marymount University known for his work on policing in the Black Lives Matter era; former historically black college president, Julianne Malveaux, who is an economist, author and political commentator; and lastly, Ta-Nehisi Coates, a distinguished writer in residence, at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute of New York University known for penning an epic piece exploring reparations in 2014 in The Atlantic.

One leading voice in the re-emerging reparations conversation that will not be in attendance is Sandy Darity, the Samuel DuBois Cook Professor of Public Policy, African and African American Studies, and Economics and the director of the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity at Duke University. Creator of ideas around the concepts of racial wealth inequality, Darity explained in a Twitter post:

My political consultant (pc) and I were told in late May that some members of Congress wanted to have a reparations hearing, possibly on Juneteenth. At that point the date and time were not set. My pc contacted the appropriate person and was told they would like to have me there or submit something for the record. I already was scheduled to speak at the Angela Project with Bothe Yvette [Carnell] and Antonio [Moore], and I plan to honor that commitment. I will submit my remarks on HR$) and reparations for the House hearing. My wish is to make the clearest case we can for reparations for American Descendants of Slavery and to get what is owed to us. My hope is that all with persistence, with patience and determination, in the fight for this common goal of that happening, both ADOS and allies.

A core of Darity’s work focuses on the economics of reparations, the Atlantic slave trade and the Industrial Revolution. Subsequently, his scholarship is now seen as critical research for a growing movement of American descendants of slaves, who go by the acronym, ADOS.

Led by analyst and former Capitol Hill and campaign staffer, Yvette Carnell and criminal defense attorney, Antonio Moore, the two have been pushing the agenda of reparations to a strong national conversation. So much so, reparations is part of the 2020 presidential discourse.

For citizens, especially Black Americans, the discussion of compensation and strategies have endured tension. Carnell and Moore, and a growing ADOS coalition have been in an ongoing debate with other groups and individuals about reparations who worked on this issue decades before. In particular, the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America or NCOBRA, a group organizing around reparations since 1987.

NCOBRA, a driving force of reparations clashes with ADOS. Whereas NCOBRA uses a united Pan-African lens that dedicates some of its focus to working closely with descendants of Africa outside of the US and in the diaspora, ADOS lasers in on the United States.

Restorative justice deferred: A look into slavery and reparations

As for Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, how or what restorative justice looks is up for debate. For her, it is about finding answers. “We’re not focused on the payments, we’re focused on ending the disparities,” she explained to Al Sharpton on his show, “Politics Nation.”

Restorative justice deferred: A look into slavery and reparations.

In 1863, Abraham Lincoln introduced land redistribution as a way to enfranchise Blacks recently freed from slavery. He issued acreage away to freed persons on the Georgia and South Carolina coast. By 1865, there were plans to enact a federal program that provided reparations in the form of land for agriculture; hence, the idea of allotting former slaves with 40 acres and a mule, as one way to compensate those who worked for free for generations to build the total infrastructure of the US and its wealth.

When Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, his predecessor, Andrew Johnson abandoned the idea of reparations for slaves. After a brief period of reconstruction and mobilization of Blacks, the country entered into what is called “the nadir.” The political, social and economic gains that Blacks made in about a decade was rapidly destroyed. Stripped away, were laws protecting the civil, housing and voting rights of Blacks.

Plus, Rutherford B. Hayes, the 1876 president elect, abandoned all military protections to keep formerly slaveholding and slave communities operating in some semblance of co-existence. As a result, Black towns and cities across the country were dismantled through waves of domestic terrorism by violent white supremacists and segregationist, racist legislation.

Although basic survival replaced conversations around reparations, the idea of monetary payments as restorative justice is not foreign. British plantation owners received monetary compensation for the United States after the Revolution War for losing their colonial establishment. Recently, UK authorities announced that they finished paying British slave owners to evacuate plantation-style economies in the Caribbean in 2015. For Haiti, they too paid reparations in a payment plan with France after the Haitian Revolution in which they recompensed what would be $21 billion today.

In the US, monetary restitution for racialized terror that set group mobility back has been granted times before. From Native nations pushed onto reservations after losing their land to the Japanese forced into World War II internment camps, a growing number of Blacks and their allies say that is time for the big payback.

Kaia Shivers covers diaspora, news and features.

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