The Long Journey of Reparations For Slavery

The conversation around slavery reparations has gone nowhere for decades — but this could change with Democratic candidates making it a platform issue for 2020.

U.S. Debt to the Past

The idea of reparations for slavery is going mainstream ahead of the 2020 election. HR-40, a bill that would call for a commission to study and consider reparation proposals for African Americans has been repeatedly introduced since 1989 — but never passed. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee reintroduced the bill in 2019 and spoke at the first congressional hearing on reparations in more than a decade.

Here is what some notable politicians and advocates are saying to push the conversation:

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
I find myself, once again, in the same position as President Obama. We both oppose reparations, and we both are the descendants of slaveholders.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) – “I believe having good faith conversations about repairing for past harm in our country in the context of reparations is really important, but this conversation cannot just become a political box checking exercise or litmus tests without meaning.”

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) – “I firmly support Congresswoman Jackson Lee's bill to create a commission to study reparations.”

Beto O'Rourke (Former TX Rep.) – “Foundational to reparations is the word 'repair.' Foundational to repair is the truth.”

Former Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-MI), HR-40 Bill sponsor – “As a member of the judiciary committee, the first African American on the House Judiciary committee, it became very clear that as we struggle with the question of civil rights, there must be some historical cognition on our part about the whole question of reparations.”

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) – “HR-40 is in fact, is in fact the response of the United States of America long overdue. Slavery is the original sin. Slavery has never received an apology.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Writer – “Enslavement reigned for 250 years on these shores. The matter of reparations is one of making amends and direct redress, but it is also a question of citizenship. In HR-40, this body has the chance to make good on its 2009 apology for enslavement and reject fair weather patriotism.”