Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee is primary sponsor of reparations legislation, currently stalled in the U.S. House of Representatives. (Courtesy Photo)

By Deborah Bailey, AFRO D.C. Editor and H.R. Harris,
Special for the AFRO

With a flurry of legislative activity on Capitol Hill in the weeks before Congress adjourns, many advocates in the Black Community have asked what progress has been made on U.S. Reparations for African Americans. 

The White House and Congress are preparing major celebrations in August for what has been called a “Historic” Inflation Reduction Act, saving Americans millions in health care, energy costs, and going after corporate interests who have not paid taxes in years. But where is Reparations legislation? 

“I think we have the votes,” said U.S. Representative Kweisi Mfume, one of more than 194 Co-sponsors for the Congressional Legislation to form a Commission to Study and Develop Reparations Proposals for African Americans. Mfume emphasized the point of the current legislation is to start the process of examining reparations proposals – “not to issue or decide upon a reparations strategy itself,” he said.  

“The House has advanced this issue for years,” said Mfume who hopes Congress will act before they leave Washington for mid-term elections this fall. When asked whether Congress would move forward with passing legislation authorizing the creation of a Reparations Commission after the mid-term elections, Mfume commented “it all depends on what happens in November,”  

“The Commission aims to study the impact of slavery and continuing discrimination against African-Americans, resulting directly and indirectly from slavery to segregation to the desegregation process and the present day. The commission would also make recommendations concerning any form of apology and compensation to begin the long delayed process of atonement for slavery,” said Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) lead legislative sponsor for the Commission to Study and Develop Reparations Proposals. 

“Though the times and circumstance may change, the principle problem of slavery continues to weigh heavily on this country. A federal commission can help us reach into this dark past and bring us into a brighter future,” Lee said in support of the legislation. 

Rev. Mark Thompson, human rights activist who organized a national press conference and Capitol Hill lobby for Reparations legislation said that despite inaction by the White House and Congress, Reparations advocates across the nation are more committed than ever to pushing for Reparations. 

“With more than 215 committed yes votes, we are pressing forward for either a House floor vote or an Executive Order,” Thomson said in an interview. “This is not only the right thing for Democrats but also the smart thing to do:  to mobilize it’s most loyal constituency to the polls this November.” 

Thompson, who recently spoke to more than 200 church leaders about Reparations at the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Black Church Summit in Chicago, said the Church is united in supporting the fight for Reparations Legislation on a national level.  

“I think the Black church is more energized and staying in the fight than ever,” he said. “Obtaining Reparations is the unfinished business of America,” Thompson added.  

“The Democrats need to find the courage to bring this bill to the floor,” Thompson said, pushing back on Lee, Mfume to not allow the issue of reparations to be put on hold for other legislation.  

Thompson also challenged the Biden White House for not doing more because of concerns that might alienate the party’s more conservative wing. 

“They are afraid of turning off independents,” Thompson said. “But the Roe decision has changed the game. The Republicans are wholly radical, and the Democrats need to step up and do what is necessary.  

“Frankly, the White House is not taking its cues from members of the House of Representatives. Biden can create the Commission to start the national conversation on reparations by executive order,” Thompson said.  

National Legislation to create a commission on reparations was first proposed in the U.S. House of Representatives in legislation was first introduced in 1989 by the late Congressman John Conyers (D-M), Chair of the Committee on the Judiciary.  The bill was originally and is currently proposed to “examine the institution of slavery in the colonies and the United States from 1619 to the present, and, further, to recommend appropriate remedies” according to Rep. Lee.  

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