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House subpanel to hold hearing on reparations for Black Americans

House subpanel to hold hearing on reparations for Black Americans
© Greg Nash

A House Judiciary subcommittee will host a hearing Wednesday to discuss the creation of a commission that would explore reparations for Black Americans, an idea long floated in Congress that has gained traction over the past year.

The Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties will convene to discuss H.R. 40, formally known as the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act.

If passed, the bill would establish a commission to “examine slavery and discrimination in the colonies and the United States from 1619 to the present and recommend appropriate remedies.”

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H.R. 40 was first introduced in the House in 1989 by late Michigan congressman John ConyersJohn James ConyersObama says reparations 'justified' House subcommittee debates reparations bill for Black Americans House subpanel to hold hearing on reparations for Black Americans MORE (D), but has failed to gain significant traction.

However, by the end of the last session of Congress, the bill had 173 co-sponsors — the most it's ever had.

Rep. Sheila Jackson LeeSheila Jackson LeeBiden pledges support for Texas amid recovery from winter storm Biden turns focus to winter storm with Texas trip Obama says reparations 'justified' MORE (D-Texas) reintroduced the bill to the House in January with 118 co-sponsors, and that number has risen to 162.

A companion bill was introduced in the Senate later in the month by Sen. Cory BookerCory Booker'Bloody Sunday' to be commemorated for first time without John Lewis It's in America's best interest to lead global COVID-19 vaccine distribution ABC names new deputy political director, weekend White House correspondent MORE and currently has 17 co-sponsors.

Several prominent figures will be speaking at the hearing, including former Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta, California Secretary of State Shirley Weber and former NFL football player Herschel Walker.

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Civil rights advocates have long said that reparations could help close the multitude of inequities that Black Americans face, such as the stark health disparities that have become clearly apparent during the coronavirus pandemic, which has disproportionately affected communities of color.

“Reparations for slavery is about reckoning with the institution itself which we haven't fully documented and accounted for, but very much about the present day and how most of our inequities today are connected to the legacy of slavery when thinking about how racism has harmed the black community,” Dreisen Heath, an assistant researcher and advocate at Human Rights Watch who’s also speaking at Wednesday’s hearing, told The Hill.

While reparations has never come to fruition at a federal level, a number of cities across the country as well as the state of California have taken affirmative steps in the process.