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Slavery Reparations Issue Gets Rare Hearing On Hill (#GotBitcoin)

Bill first introduced in 1989 would establish federal commission to study impact of slavery, suggest possible remedies. Slavery Reparations Issue Gets Rare Hearing On Hill (#GotBitcoin)

A House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on a bill addressing reparations for slavery, the first such hearing in more than a decade, signaled the issue’s newfound traction in mainstream Democratic politics.

The bill would establish a federal commission to study and report on the impact of slavery and the Jim Crow segregation laws that followed abolition. The commission would also suggest to Congress possible remedies for slavery’s aftereffects on African-Americans up to the present.


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While the bill—which is known as H.R. 40, and was first introduced in 1989—is unlikely to advance in the Republican-controlled Senate, it has seen unprecedented support from House Democrats, including a public endorsement by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi—who hadn’t done so in her prior 16 years as House Democratic leader. The bill has more than 60 co-sponsors, all Democrats.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said Wednesday that he expects the bill to get a vote on the House floor. “It will get a vote if it comes out of the committee,” he said, adding, “I think that’s a very serious issue we need to look at.”

House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D., N.Y.), a co-sponsor of the bill, said at the packed hearing Wednesday that racial disparities in education, housing and health care were directly attributable to slavery’s legacy. “Even long after slavery was abolished, segregation and subjugation of African-Americans was a defining part of this nation’s policies,” he said.

Rep. Mike Johnson (R., La.), the subcommittee’s ranking member, opposed the legislation, saying that government assistance wasn’t necessary for a number of successful African-Americans throughout history to improve their own lives. “The premise of H.R. 40 and similar legislation, however well-intended they may be, risks communicating the opposite message,” said Mr. Johnson.

Sen. Cory Booker (D., N.J.), who introduced the bill’s first Senate companion in April, also testified at the hearing Wednesday, which coincided with Juneteenth, a holiday celebrating the anniversary of the emancipation of the last enslaved African-Americans.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) signaled his opposition to the bill Tuesday. “I don’t think reparations for something that happened 150 years ago for whom none of us currently living are responsible is a good idea,” he said.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, a writer whose 2014 article in the Atlantic headlined “The Case for Reparations” renewed discussion of the issue, testified Wednesday and sought to counter Mr. McConnell’s statement: “For a century after the Civil War, black people were subjected to a relentless campaign of terror, a campaign that extended well into the lifetime of Majority Leader McConnell,” Mr. Coates said.

Mr. Coates and other witnesses Wednesday argued that discriminatory practices that followed abolition, including housing discrimination, predatory lending and white supremacist violence, perpetuated slavery’s negative impact on African-Americans, and urged the government to study the issue further.

Two opponents of reparations, both African-American—former National Football League player Burgess Owens and opinion columnist Coleman Hughes—also spoke at the hearing.

Mr. Hughes argued reparations for slavery wouldn’t solve issues like inadequate schools or unsafe neighborhoods. “If we were to pay reparations today, we would only divide the country further, making it harder to build the political coalitions required to solve the problems facing black people today,” he said.

The topic of reparations has become a talking point among many of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates. While some of the candidates differ on what reparations would entail, eight of the current representatives and senators running for the Democratic nomination, not including Mr. Booker, have co-sponsored their respective chamber’s versions of the bill.

Updated: 7-25-2020

Slavery Reparations Issue Gets, Slavery Reparations Issue Gets


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