In June 2019, a historic Congressional hearing on reparations finally happened. Among the panel speakers were Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), retired NFL player Burgess Owens, Quilette columnist Coleman Hughes, writer and author Ta-Nehisi Coates, actor and activist Danny Glover, and economist Julianne Malveaux, Episcopal bishop Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton for the diocese of Maryland, and Katrina Browne, a white filmmaker whose ancestors brought more than 12,000 African slaves to the U.S.
The hearing, conducted by the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties, held historical and symbolic significance. The last congressional discussion of reparations was in 2007, a year before the election of the country’s first Black president. The most recent hearing was held on Juneteenth, a day commemorating when slaves in Galveston, Texas, were finally notified of their emancipation. There wasn’t enough room for the people who arrived to witness the hearing, according to the New York Times. The overflow stood a short distance away from the U.S. Capitol, a federal symbol built by the enslaved.
HR 40 was discussed and debated.
“White America must recognize that justice for Black people cannot be achieved without radical change to the structure of our society,” said Glover, who spoke of meeting his great-grandmother Mary Brown, a woman born into slavery. Reparations “is a moral, democratic, and economic imperative,” he said.
Malveaux pointed out that the current wealth gap between Black and white households is almost as wide as it was in 1910. “When Zip code determines what kind of school that you go to, when Zip code determines what kind of food you eat — these are the vestiges of enslavement that a lot of people don’t want to deal with,” she said.
There were speakers who opposed reparations, such as Coleman Hughes, a Columbia undergraduate and Quillette columnist who said, “Reparations, by definition, are only given to victims. So the moment you give me reparations, you’ve made me into a victim without my consent.”
Retired NFL player Burgess Owens agreed with Hughes, arguing that reparations would be an insulting diminishment of the work done by African Americans since slavery.
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