Congresswoman Backs New Bill that Seeks Reparations for Slavery

Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) is sponsoring a House bill that seeks to set up a commission to evaluate reparations from enslavement, including the consideration of a national apology.

The commission would examine “the impact of continuing discrimination against African Americans,” and recommend “compensation, to begin the long process of atonement for slavery,” Lee said in a statement.

Introduced on January 3, H.R. 40 intends to “address the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery in the United States and the 13 American colonies between 1619 and 1865.” If passed, the commission would “study and consider a national apology and proposal for reparations for the institution of slavery, its subsequent de jure and de facto racial and economic discrimination against African Americans, and the impact of these forces on living African Americans.” Ultimately, the commission would make recommendations to Congress on “appropriate remedies, and for other purposes.”

The journal Social Science Quarterly found in 2015 that reparations could cost between $5.9 trillion to $14.2 trillion. Author Thomas Craemer, from the University of Connecticut, said he calculated the price based on the contributions of enslaved labor, women, and children to the US economy between 1776 and when enslavement was abolished 1865.

“Reparations will never bring one life back, and it’s totally inadequate to the terror of the [past], but having a meaningful symbol of reparations is a good thing, not just for recipients but for the people who provide it,” Craemer told Newsweek.

Recent discussions over reparations began when author Ta-Nehisi Coates published his 2014 landmark article “The Case of Reparations” for The Atlantic magazine. “What I’m talking about is more than recompense for past injustices — more than a handout, a payoff, hush money, or a reluctant bribe. What I’m talking about is a national reckoning that would lead to spiritual renewal,” Coates wrote. “Reparations would mean the end of scarfing hot dogs on the Fourth of July while denying the facts of our heritage.”

As the country begins to enter a new presidential race, the issue of reparations has taken center stage among Democratic hopefuls, yet there is skepticism about whether they truly understand its concept. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), and former Housing and Urban Secretary Julián Castro have all favored reparations for African Americans, but they still haven’t explained what “reparations” would entail or how they would carry out its policy implementation.

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), another 2020 presidential hopeful, posed the question of what reparations would look like, but has adamantly rejected “writing out a check.” In an interview with ABC’s The View on March 1, he said, “I think what we have got to do is pay attention to distressed communities: Black communities, Latino communities, and white communities, and as president, I pledge to do that.”

Sanders was confronted with the same question on March 4, when radio host Charlamagne Tha God asked whether the candidate would support reparations. “What do we mean by reparations?” Sanders retorted. “To my mind, it means we have to deal with the fact that there is enormous disparity between the Black community and the white community. And that issue has got to be addressed.” When Charlamagne asked “cash payouts?” the Vermont senator responded, “no.”


About the Author

Robert Valencia is the breaking news editor for The North Star. His work as editor and reporter appeared on Newsweek, World Politics Review, Mic.com, Public Radio International and The Miami Herald, among other outlets. He’s a frequent commentator on foreign affairs and U.S. politics on Al Jazeera English, CNN en Español, Univision, Telemundo, Voice of America, C-SPAN, Sirius XM and other media outlets across Latin America and the Caribbean.