On January 9th, 2023, Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18) introduced H.R. 40 – the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act into the 118th Congress. H.R. 40 would establish the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans, which would be charged with the following: 1) documenting evidence of slavery in the U.S.; 2) analyzing how national and local governments supported slavery and enacted discriminatory laws and policies; and 3) making recommendations on how the U.S. can remediate the effects of slavery and discrimination on African Americans, including through reparations.
During the 117th Congress, H.R. 40 saw its largest share of congressional support yet with a whopping 196 members cosponsoring the House version of the legislation. With that support, H.R. 40 passed the House Committee on Judiciary with a vote of 25-17. Activists are also encouraging President Biden to implement the goals of H.R. 40. You can help build on the momentum by taking just a moment to tell Congress and the White House to support and implement a Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans.
The American Humanist Association (AHA) has long been in support of H.R. 40 / S. 40. As recently as last year we signed on to a Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights letter urging President Biden to pursue the goals of H.R. 40, and last month, we officially endorsed Senator Booker’s reintroduction of S.40 in the 118th Congress. Senator Booker’s current legislation has already garnered more cosponsors than during the previous congress, demonstrating growing interest in the issue.
As AHA’s previous Policy and Social Justice Director, Rachel Deitch, pointed out in her March 2022 article Repair Can’t Wait: The Case for Reparations, reparations are not nouvelle–they have been accorded to or considered for Native Americans, victims of forced sterilization, and Japanese-Americans, for example, albeit in underhanded ways. Deitch explains:
The order commonly known as “40 acres and a mule,” (which gives HR 40 its number) was proposed by southern Black ministers and announced by General Sherman[. It] outlined that not only would formerly enslaved Black Americans be given land, the land would be governed by its Black owners, and their rights to the land and self-government would be protected by the U.S. military until the local communities had the means to protect it themselves. This order was overturned by President Andrew Johnson later that same year and the land was returned to its original owners.
While support for H.R. 40 in Congress continues to grow, interest in reparations proposals are notably starting to materialize, and even pass, at the state and local levels. Evanston, Illinois became the first city in 2021 to authorize reparations for its residents, currently in the form of a housing program, and cities like St. Louis and Boston are in the processes of appointing commissions to study proposals. California’s reparations task force is expected to make recommendations later this year, and New York and Maryland are also considering similar study committees.
The AHA recognizes that Black families hold less than fifteen percent of the amount of the wealth of white families, due to the long-lasting effects of successful government-supported segregationist policies, and that white supremacy and racism have been intricately folded into systems of power. Economic justice for Black and Indigenous people requires federal policies that take drastic corrective measures to eradicate the racial wealth gap, and therefore, the AHA affirms its support for reparations to the descendants of people enslaved in the United States.