For the first time in a decade, Congress will hold a hearing on Wednesday on the subject of reparations for the descendants of slaves in the United States, a topic that has gained traction in the run-up to the 2020 elections.
The hearing is set for June 19, also known as “Juneteenth,” the day when in 1865 former enslaved people in Texas first learned that they had been delivered two years earlier.
The House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties is holding the hearing on H.R. 40, which calls for a commission to “study and develop reparation proposals for African-Americans,” including a formal apology by the U.S. government “for the perpetration of human rights violations and crimes against humanity on African slaves and their descendants.”
The hearing is programmed to feature testimony from author Ta-Nehisi Coates, whose article “The Case for Reparations,” published by The Atlantic magazine in 2014, is widely credited with re-igniting the debate over restorative justice for the descendants of slaves. Also scheduled to appear are actor Danny Glover, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), as well as legal experts, economists, and civil rights leaders.
H.R. 40 is sponsored by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas). The commission has the support of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Apart from Booker, many other Democratic presidential candidates have expressed support for some form of reparations, including Beto O’Rourke, Sen. Kamala Harris, (D-Calif.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren, (D-Mass.), and former Secretary of Housing and Urban Affairs Julián Castro.
While the proposal for a reparations study commission might receive sympathetic consideration in the Democratic-majority House, its prospects would probably sink in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday said that he does not support reparations. “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,” McConnell said as quoted by the Hill. “We’ve tried to deal with our original sin of slavery by fighting a civil war, bypassing landmark civil rights legislation. We elected an African American president.”