The first-ever federal hearing on the proposed reparations bill, “H.R. 40: Exploring the Path to Reparative Justice in America,” took place on Juneteenth, June 19, 2019.
Ever since that historic hearing, reparations advocates have been calling for changes to be made to the proposed bill.
A second hearing on reparations has been scheduled for 10 a.m. on Feb. 17 by the House Judiciary Committee.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, who reintroduced the HR 40 reparations bill on Jan. 3, 2019, has not responded to calls for editing changes to the bill.
Back in 1989, former Democratic Rep. John Conyers of Michigan — the longtime sponsor of House Resolution 40 — first proposed the measure calling for a study of reparations. He reintroduced the bill every session until his resignation in 2017.
Since Rep. Jackson Lee reintroduced the bill, members of ADOS have repeatedly called for edits.
Ice Cube tweeted on Oct. 16, 2020, “HR40 needs to be fixed before its signed. It’s lacking real teeth. @JacksonLeeTX18 I’ve been trying to contact you for over a week. #FixHR40”.
Identifying as an American descendant of slavery (ADOS), Maxwell Little tweeted, “All hands on deck #FixHR40 phone bank campaign to amplify our demand for #Reparations via direct emails, calls, and tweets to legislators on the committee. Please use the scripts and prompts below to take action!”
ADOS co-founder Yvette Carnell tweeted her call for reparations for Native Black Americans: “You don’t repay debts w/ equality. You don’t repay debts w/ symbolism. You don’t repay debts w/ loans. You repay debts by giving back what you took. With interest.”
One of the most prominent voices in the call for changes in the HR 40 bill is Duke University economist William “Sandy” Darity, who has been fighting for reparations for years. He and A. Kirsten Mullen wrote the award-winning book, “From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the 21st Century.”
Darity, considered one of the premier reparations experts, contacted Rep. Jackson Lee’s office in 2020 to set up a meeting and received no answer.
Initially, Darity said he was for the passage of HR 40, but that has since changed. He said he feels strongly that HR 40 needs to either be replaced in “its entirety or to leapfrog it and move directly to the design of legislation for reparations.”
“Naïve in the belief that the hearings truly would explore ways to improve the HR40 bill, I was supportive of the passage of the bill, subject to revision. The sustained resistance to any critical assessment of the content of HR40 on the part of National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (NCOBRA) and their allies, particularly National African American Reparations Commission (NAARC) and the Institute of the Black World, is leading me to reconsider my position,” Darity wrote in Actify.
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According to Darity, one of the main problems with the bill involves the commission that it proposes. That commission would consist of “seven members, three appointed by the U.S. president, three appointed by the Speaker of the House, and one appointed by the President Pro-Tempore of the Senate.”
In his research with Mullen, Darity said they “found odd the assignment of appointment authority for any positions to the President since this is a Congressional commission. Ultimately, one of the recommendations put forward in my Juneteenth testimony is to have all members appointed by the Congress, while restoring the original number of seven members. Any President can at any time, appoint their own commission to study plans for Black reparations if they so desire,” Darity wrote in Actify.
Darity is concerned that the National African American Reparations Commission and National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America will have too much influence on any commission.
“The danger is these organizations’ lack a commitment to a comprehensive reparations plan for Black American descendants of U.S. slavery,” Darity wrote.
In “From Here to Equality,” Darity and Mullen wrote that reparations must have three key features:
1. They should be for Black Americans who have had at least one ancestor enslaved in the U.S. as the eligible recipients.
2. They must address the racial wealth gap, now nearing $85,000 in net worth between the average Black and white households. “Elimination of that gap will require a federal expenditure of $10 to $12 trillion, mandated by Congress. The racial wealth gap, we contend, is the prime economic indicator of the cumulative, intergenerational impact of white supremacy, from slavery to the present moment,” Darity wrote.
3. They must prioritize direct payments to eligible recipients.
The first hearing on reparations received much fanfare. Held as the country marked the 400th year since the first slave ship arrived in the English colony of Virginia, it featured a wide array of speakers. Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration marking the end of slavery in the U.S. U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, then a Democratic presidential candidate; the actor Danny Glover; the acclaimed writer Ta-Nehisi Coates and many others attended.
To download information on the upcoming Feb. 17 meeting, visit the U.S. House of Representatives Committee Repository website.