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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 ConyersCalifornia comes to terms with the costs and consequences of slavery Democrats debate timing and wisdom of reparations vote House panel approves bill to set up commission on reparations 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 LeeRon Johnson booed at Juneteenth celebration in Wisconsin Black lawmakers warn against complacency after Juneteenth victory 40-year march: Only one state doesn't recognize Juneteenth 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 BookerDemocrats introduce resolution apologizing to LGBT community for government discrimination Zombie Tax punishes farmers to fill DC coffers Rand Paul does not support a national minimum wage increase — and it's important to understand why 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.