America could get that much closer to finally addressing the age-old debate over paying reparations to the descendants of African slaves.
On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee advanced a 30-year-old bill that if passed would create a commission to study the issue of slavery reparations, NBC News reports. The bill, titled H.R. 40, was first introduced by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., in 1989. The 40 in the bill’s title refers to the 40 acres of land the American government failed to deliver to newly freed slaves at the end of the Civil War.
If passed, a commission would be established to examine the history of slavery and discrimination in the US from 1619 to the present day. The commission would then provide recommendations to educate Americans on the findings and issue out remedies, compensations, and a formal apology to the direct descendants of slaves.
It’s been the first move toward legislation on the decades-long bill and it only received a 25-17 vote to advance the measure to the full House. The House bill received no support from Republicans among its 176 co-sponsors. It would take 60 additional votes in the evenly divided Senate to overcome a filibuster.
“This legislation is long overdue,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the Democratic chairman of the committee. “H.R. 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.”
Republicans spoke out against the bill, including Rep. Burgess Owens, a Black lawmaker from Utah, who recalled growing up in the Deep South where “we believe in commanding respect, not digging or asking for it.” As a former football player, he noted his time playing the sport in the 1970s, when Black men weren’t allowed to play quarterback or other “thinking positions.”
“Forty years later, we’re now electing a president of the United States, a black man. Vice president of the United States, a black woman. And we say there’s no progress?” Owens said. “Those who say there’s no progress are those who do not want progress.”
In March, Evanston, Illinois, became the first U.S. city to make strides toward reparations by offering qualified households $25,000 for home repairs and down payments on their property, NBC News reports. The program is funded through donations and revenue from a 3% tax on the sale of recreational marijuana. Other areas considering forms of reparations include the state of California, and cities like Amherst, Massachusetts; Providence, Rhode Island; Asheville, North Carolina; and Iowa City, Iowa. Institutions considering reparations include the Episcopal Church and Georgetown University in Washington.
Following a White House meeting with President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on Tuesday, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas expressed hope in the President’s support of the bill. “We’re very comfortable with where President Biden is on H.R. 40,” Lee said.