On the same day we celebrated Juneteenth Day in Milwaukee this year, a congressional hearing on H.R. 40 was being hosted by the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties. Congresswoman Shelia Jackson Lee (D-Houston) has put forth a resolution that would call for a commission to “study and develop reparation proposals for African-Americans” and consider a national apology by the government “for the perpetration of gross human rights violations and crimes against humanity on African slaves and their descendants.”
H.R. 40 or House Resolution 40 is appropriately named to represent the unfulfilled federal promise to provide freed African-Americans with modest resources to build their lives after slavery. Frequently referred to as “40 acres and a mule”, the resolution reminds me of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s, 1963 “I Have A Dream” speech regarding this country not living up to its promises. Specifically, King said “It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.”
Yet, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell feels the debt has been paid. In stating that he didn’t think reparations were “a good idea,” McConnell basically questioned what else needed to be done to account for U.S. slavery by the government. McConnell opined that since there was a civil war, civil rights legislation and a black man elected president, enough had been done. I’ll let you decide whether his remarks were “sincere ignorance or conscientious stupidity.”
Additionally, some have questioned why they should be liable for the actions of others, including McConnell. However, those challenges were resolved when it came time to provide reparations for Japanese-Americans placed in Internment camps during World War II. There have been U.S. monetary and medical care reparations for the Tuskegee Experiment, the Supreme Court sanctioned and forced sterilizations of mentally and developmentally challenged citizens, as well as black women receiving public benefits, and the Rosewood town race-riot.
Yes, it has been 400 years since slavery’s beginning in the U.S., but there should be no statute of limitations on doing what is right, as some have also suggested. I agree with Dr. King when he said “we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we’ve come to cash this check…” If the rest of the world can look at reparations for slavery, through the lens of collaborative efforts such as the Global Reparations Summit, surely in the U.S. we can agree on the formation of a committee to study the issue.