Story at a glance

  • A panel of lawmakers in the U.S. House voted to advance a bill Wednesday that would create a commission to study the effort to offer reparations for slavery.
  • The House judiciary committee advanced the bill in a 25-17 vote.
  • The commission will be modeled after a similar initiative undertaken in the 1980s to document the forced incarceration of Japanese Americans.

A panel of lawmakers in the U.S. House voted to advance a bill Wednesday that would create a commission to study the effort to offer reparations for slavery. 

The House judiciary committee advanced the bill in a 25-17 vote, the Guardian reported. The bill now faces an uphill climb in the House and Senate, but Democratic lawmakers were encouraged by the push to center the issue on the national stage. The bill was first presented in 1989. 

“This legislation is long overdue,” Democratic committee chairman Jerrold Nadler said. “HR 40 is intended to begin a national conversation about how to confront the brutal mistreatment of African Americans during chattel slavery, Jim Crow segregation and the enduring structural racism that remains endemic to our society today.”


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The commission will be modeled after a similar initiative undertaken in the 1980s to document the forced incarceration of Japanese Americans. 

Meanwhile, some House members believe the initiative to be a costly enterprise that would entitle a commission to study a plan they’ve already decided to carry out. 

“Spend $20m for a commission that’s already decided to take money from people who were never involved in the evil of slavery and give it to people who were never subject to the evil of slavery,” ranking Republican Jim Jordan said. “That’s what Democrats on the judiciary committee are doing.”

Yet Democratic lawmakers insist that reparations would not amount to a simple handout. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) who sponsored the bill urged her colleagues to examine history and recognize the hurt caused by one of America’s founding institutions. 

“I ask my friends on the other side of the aisle, do not ignore the pain, the history and the reasonableness of this commission,” Jackson Lee said. 

The bill, should it make it out of the House, will likely be subject to intense scrutiny in the Senate, Reuters previously reported. When the issue came up in the Senate in 2019, then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) argued that Americans should not be held accountable for an act that occurred more than 100 years ago. 

“No one currently alive was responsible,” McConnell said. 

The Jim Crow era and its segregationist laws ended in 1968 with the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It began after the Civil War and existed for about 100 years. 


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Published on Apr 15, 2021