After More Than Three Decades, House Judiciary Committee Finally Set To Vote On Slavery Reparations Bill

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April 16, 2021

It’s about time!

After more than three decades since its introduction, the House Judiciary Committee is finally set to vote on a slavery reparations bill, Blavity reports.

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U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee is spearheading the efforts to push for a vote on the historic H.R. (House Resolution) 40 bill. The late Michigan Representative John Conyers first introduced the measure in 1989 “to establish a commission that would examine the effects of slavery and develop reparations proposals for Black Americans.” The bill’s name is a play-off of the reneged Civil War-era promise of 40 acres and a mule to all newly freed slaves.

According to the Human Rights Watch, the measure has been introduced at every congressional session since 1989 but has never reached a committee vote. That is, until now. 

“This is what we call the next step. American has never acknowledged the original sin, and that if you look at African-Americans today, the disparities that were entrenched in slavery still exist,” Rep. Lee told reporters.

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In 2019, following the committee’s hearing on Juneteenth, H.R. 40 was reintroduced into the conversation with influencers like actor Danny Glover, writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker in attendance. 

“As a nation, we have yet to truly acknowledge and grapple with the racism and white supremacy that tainted this country’s founding and continues to cause persistent and deep racial disparities and inequality,” said Booker at the time. 

As the conversation around reparations gets louder due to the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in 2020 and the racial reckoning that follows, H.R. 40 has been thrust back into the spotlight. 

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Dreisen Heath, a racial justice researcher and advocate at Human Rights Watch spoke about the importance of the bill, saying, “The centuries-long injustices of slavery and its legacy, fueling the persistence of racial inequality today, remain largely unaccounted for. As states, cities, and other institutions pursue reckonings, Congress should step up to lead the nation in accounting and atoning for the ongoing impact of slavery. The committee vote on H.R. 40 is a crucial step in that direction.”

Recently, California became the first state to pass a law establishing a task force to examine the impact of slavery on descendants of enslaved people and paved the way for reparations. President Joe Biden has shown support for H.R. 40, and there are now 175 sponsors, nearly double since 2019. The committee is scheduled to vote this week, with Lee doubling down on the measure’s pertinence right now.

“We are now, unfortunately, seemingly going back — massive voter oppression and suppression with legislation across America, the tragedies against Black men as it relates to the encounters in law enforcement certainly needs to be repaired, and the disparities in wealth is very stark, even today. The time for H.R. 40 is now,” said Rep. Lee.

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We are all keeping our eye on this important piece of legislation. 

Photo Courtesy of J.Scott Applewhite/Associated Press

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