Actor and activist Danny Glover joined Newark, New Jersey Mayor (and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate) Cory Booker, and civil rights activist Ta-Nehisi Coates to testify at a House of Representatives hearing on slavery reparations on Wednesday, The Associated Press reports. It’s the first time any chamber of Congress has discussed the matter in over a decade.
Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, of Texas, has been carrying the mantle of advocating for slavery reparations ever since Representative John Conyers retired. And she’s introduced a resolution, H.R. 40, that calls for studying the matter.
“I just simply ask: ‘Why not and why not now?'” she said.
The subject of paying reparations to the descendants of Africans trafficking into the United States as slaves, as well as to the countries from which they came, has been debated off-and-on in the U.S. for over a century and a half, with the first calls for reparations coming in just after the end of the Civil War. Over the ensuing decades, the issue has come up from time to time, without ever getting serious attention in Congress.
The most recent effort at addressing the issue came in 2007, when Conyers introduced a bill calling for the government to study the issue of reparations. As The New Standard reported at the time, the bill went nowhere.
Since Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee re-introduced H.R. 40, the legislation and the concept of reparations is once again getting the attention it deserves.https://t.co/QaOM7ehezr
— ACLU (@ACLU) June 18, 2019
Several prominent African American activists were brought in to testify, including Booker.
“The stain of slavery was not just inked in bloodshed, but in policies that have disadvantaged African Americans for generations,” he said.
Similarly, Coates, who in 2014 wrote an op-ed in The Atlantic entitled “The Case For Reparations,” told the House committee that America’s wealth is the direct result of slavery.
“The matter of reparations is one of making amends and direct redress but is also a question of citizenship,” he said.
How much traction Lee’s proposed resolution will get in Congress remains unclear. Even within the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives, there’s considerable opposition to her resolution, with opponents speaking out during Wednesday’s hearing.
For example, the top Republican present at Wednesday’s hearing, Louisiana’s Mike Johnson, rejected the notion that the U.S., as a whole, should be on the hook for the “sins of a small subset of Americans from many generations ago.”
In fact, it seems that Americans, as a whole, aren’t necessarily on-board with the idea of paying slavery reparations. According to a 2016 Point Taken-Marist poll, 68 percent of Americans oppose paying slavery reparations. Even among African Americans, only about six-in-ten supported the idea.