Today marks Juneteenth, a day meant to celebrate the very slow end of slavery in the United States. Quite fittingly, the House Judiciary subcommittee held a hearing today on bill H.R. 40, a bill introduced by Texas senator Sheila Jackson Lee, which seeks to create a commission to study and develop reparation proposals for African Americans. It was the first hearing of its kind in nearly a decade, though the issue has enjoyed some new more recent enthusiasm thanks in part to a 2014 essay published in the Atlantic by Ta-Nehisi Coates titled, “The Case For Reparations.”
Coates himself made an appearance to the House panel, addressing comments made the previous day by Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell, who told reporters in response to a question about 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,” adding, “ We’ve tried to deal with our original sin of slavery by fighting a civil war, by passing landmarking civil rights legislation. We elected an African American president…”
In his opening statement, Coates addressed McConnell’s comments by referencing the lasting impact of slavery and discrimination even within McConnel’s own lifetime, such as the execution of George Stinney in 1944 (who was only 14 at the time), the blinding of Isaac Woodward by police two years later, and the harassment and jailing of those who pushed for civil rights legislation.
“That is the thing about Sen. McConnell’s ‘something,’” remarks Coates, “It was 150 years ago and it was right now.”
Democratic Presidential candidate, Senator Cory Booker also spoke saying,
“I feel a sense of anger where we are in the United States of America where we have not had direct conversations about a lot of the root causes of the inequities and the pain and the hurt manifested in economic disparities… in a criminal justice system that is indeed a new form of Jim Crow. So we as a nation have not yet truly acknowledged or grappled with racism and white supremacy that has tainted this country’s founding and continues… to this day.”
The three-hour hearing also included speeches by actor Danny Glover, who has been campaigning with Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, and many others, but a particular highlight of the hearing came from economist Julianna Malveaux, who dropped some truth on those assembled.
“First of all, enslavement was the foundation on which our country was built. So anybody who says ‘Well I didn’t have any slaves,’ no you didn’t have to have any. What you had to do was experience them, enjoy the fact that they were here, enjoy the fact that their labor made it possible for there to be a Wall Street, a bond market, and all of that.”
Word. Watch Malveaux’s full statement and check out the full hearing below.
H.R. 40 has been backed by Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, though the bill’s chances of passing successfully when and if it reaches the Senate are slim. As of now Senators Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, and Elizabeth Warren are the only Presidential candidates that have expressed explicit support for reparations.