Reparations for slavery debated in Congress

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ASPartOfMe
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20 Jun 2019, 3:37 am

At Historic Hearing, House Panel Makes History by Exploring Reparations

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The sometimes raucous session before a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee lasted nearly three and a half hours and dug into the darkest corners of the nation’s history, exposing the bitter cultural and ideological divides in Washington and beyond. Republican lawmakers and witnesses — including Burgess Owens, the retired football star — were jeered when they argued that black people could pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and that reparations might damage their psyches.

“We’ve become successful like no other because of this great opportunity to live the American dream,” Mr. Owens, who is black, told the panel. “Let’s not steal that from our kids by telling them they can’t do it.”

That the hearing took place at all was remarkable, a reflection of the shifting landscape in the Democratic Party and the wrenching national debate over racial justice in the era of President Trump. Nearly 60 House Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, support the bill. And at least 11 Democratic presidential candidates — with former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. a notable exception — have embraced either the concept of reparations or the bill to study it.

“We have not had a conversation about reparations on this scale or level since the Reconstruction Era,” William A. Darity Jr., a professor of public policy at Duke University who is writing a book on reparations, said in a telephone interview.

The first time the federal government considered reparations for black people was in 1865, when 400,000 acres of coastal land were awarded to former slaves, the result of a special order issued by the Union general, William T. Sherman. It lasted less than a year. When President Abraham Lincoln died, he was succeeded by Andrew Johnson, who rescinded Sherman’s order.
In the late 1800s, the idea of pensions for former slaves — similar to pensions for Union soldiers — took hold, championed for a time by a Nebraska congressman. But the idea fizzled in the face of strong opposition from federal agencies.

In 1989, Representative John Conyers Jr., who retired in 2017, introduced legislation to create a commission to develop proposals for reparations. He introduced it every year for nearly 30 years. It went nowhere. Even President Barack Obama opposed reparations, calling the idea impractical.

It is that bill, titled the “Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act,” and now sponsored by Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, Democrat of Texas, that the subcommittee has before it. It would authorize $12 million for a 13-member commission to study the effects of slavery and make recommendations to Congress.

“I just simply ask: Why not?” Ms. Jackson Lee said Wednesday. “And why not now?”

Even if it passes the House, the bill has little chance of getting through the Republican-controlled Senate, where Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, spoke out against it on Tuesday, telling reporters he does not favor reparations “for something that happened 150 years ago, for whom none of us currently living are responsible.”

Mr. McConnell’s remark prompted a sharp rebuke from the hearing’s star witness, the writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, whose 2014 article “The Case for Reparations” in The Atlantic rekindled the debate, arguing that African-Americans had been exploited by nearly every American institution. Mr. Coates, who is black, ticked off a list of government-sponsored discriminatory policies — including those in Mr. McConnell’s birthplace of Alabama — such as redlining and poll taxes.

While emancipation dead-bolted the door against the bandits of America, Jim Crow wedged the windows wide open,” he added. “That’s the thing about Senator McConnell’s ‘something.’ It was 150 years ago, and it was right now.”

Advocates for reparations say their cause is misunderstood, and emphasize that it does not necessarily mean the government would be writing checks to black people, though Mr. Coates said he was not opposed to the idea.

Rather, they say, the government could offer various types of assistance — zero-interest loans for prospective black homeowners, free college tuition, community development plans to spur the growth of black-owned businesses in black neighborhoods — to address the social and economic fallout of slavery and racially discriminatory federal policies that have resulted in a huge wealth gap between white and black people.

Wednesday’s hearing was laden with symbolism. This year is the 400th anniversary of the first documented arrival of Africans to the port of Jamestown in what was then the colony of Virginia. Wednesday, June 19, was Juneteenth, the holiday that celebrates the end of slavery in the United States. And the bill carries the designation H.R. 40, a reference to “40 acres and a mule.”

As passions flared, the subcommittee chairman, Representative Steve Cohen of Tennessee, repeatedly told the spectators to simmer down. And politics was at work: A Democratic presidential candidate, Senator Cory Booker, who is carrying the bill in the Senate, was the first witness, declaring himself “brokenhearted and very angry” at the nation’s reluctance to deal with what he called “a cancer on the soul of our country.”

One Republican congressman, Representative Louie Gohmert of Texas, lashed out at “today’s claim that the Republicans are the party of racism,” noting that southern segregationist Democrats were responsible for the era of Jim Crow.

Another Republican, Representative Mike Johnson of Louisiana, drew hisses when he suggested that black leaders like Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington “encouraged people to take control of and responsibility for their own lives, because that gives every human being a greater sense of meaning, purpose and satisfaction.”


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Persephone29
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20 Jun 2019, 10:31 am

How would they go about separating out the families that were not citizens of the US when slavery took place? I'm not opposed to reparations from families of slave owners to families of slaves.

I got into ancestry with my family because we were told our great-grandmother was full first nation Cherokee. That was a lie. Not a drop of native american blood from either side, 99.9% European. But, what we were able to track was when we arrived, late 1800's to early 1900's... Prior to that at least 50% of my ancestry was fighting for their own independence from someone else.

So, while I agree someone should be held accountable, acknowledgement that not everyone participated in slavery is important. Would you agree?

If this was discussed and I missed it, my apologies in advance.


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20 Jun 2019, 10:43 am

"Reparations" is a preposterous idea.

How are they going to sort out whose ancestors were slaves versus whose ancestors were slave-owners? What if a person has equal part of both in his/her ancestry? Are people whose ancestors arrived in this country after 1865 going to be forced to pay? Are people whose ancestors never owned slaves going to be forced to pay? Are people whose ancestors were never slaves going to receive these "reparations"? Is this just going to be a matter of all white people giving all black people a big chunk of their life savings?

Of all the stupid ideas ... "Reparations" is even more stupid than Trump's Wall!


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20 Jun 2019, 2:00 pm

I sometimes wonder if the the democrats are masochists. Maybe they want Trump reelected since him being President has been good for their fundraising. If the Democrats want to screw up a sure thing(again) they could not have chosen a better way.


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Fnord
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20 Jun 2019, 2:09 pm

ASPartOfMe wrote:
I sometimes wonder if the the democrats are masochists. Maybe they want Trump reelected since him being President has been good for their fundraising. If the Democrats want to screw up a sure thing(again) they could not have chosen a better way.
They seem desperate. They lost the White House by just a few Electoral votes, and now they are pandering to every special-interest group that will listen to them. Blacks receiving "reparations" ... legalized marijuana for people against Big Pharma ... free abortions for women ... political correctness for snowflakes ... lawsuits against people for not baking cakes for gay couples ... :roll:


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kokopelli
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20 Jun 2019, 2:35 pm

Reparations to former slaves would be okay, but not to further generations. It is imperative that people take responsibility for their own lives instead of blaming their issues on previous generations.



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20 Jun 2019, 2:40 pm

I think it would be absurd to even suggest that slave owners within your ancestors would make you obligated to pay for the sins of other people you may not have even liked yourself. What happens in the case of someone's great grandfather was a slave owner while you yourself aren't racist, don't believe in owning slaves and are struggling in poverty? Whether their is family connection or not, it's wrong to hold any individual responsible for the action of another person. That's similar to, your father killed someone so you must be put to death or imprisoned for life.

The country should simply step up as a whole to tackle poverty in general for all people, that is what would help the country out. Just giving people something for nothing isn't going to resolve anything. Give a guy a fish vures teach a guy to fish. You can apply that to women also, just a saying.



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20 Jun 2019, 6:07 pm

If they’re taxpayer-funded, wouldn’t some of the taxpayers be paying for their own reparations?


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Banjo54
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20 Jun 2019, 6:14 pm

kokopelli wrote:
Reparations to former slaves would be okay, but not to further generations. It is imperative that people take responsibility for their own lives instead of blaming their issues on previous generations.

This all the way. ^



naturalplastic
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20 Jun 2019, 6:35 pm

I cant believe that theyre seriously discussing this crazy idea.

if it were right on the heels of the Civil War, and of emancipation, it might have been doable, and laudable.

But not now.

Both parties (perpetrators and victims) are long gone.

There WAS a notion that was kind of like that, that actually did gain some political traction in the early post Civil War Reconstruction era. A White guy in the south got the idea that there should be a federal retirement pension given to former slaves in the South. And he got a sizable movement of folks of both races behind it in the south. Seems just for a number of reasons to me: among them being that it would pumped money into the Southern economy and helped both Whites and Blacks in the South. Sadly the movement died out. But I digress.



ASPartOfMe
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20 Jun 2019, 7:00 pm

Crimadella wrote:
I think it would be absurd to even suggest that slave owners within your ancestors would make you obligated to pay for the sins of other people you may not have even liked yourself.

Most Americans ancestors were not even in the country at the time never mind slave owners.


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TheRevengeofTW1ZTY
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20 Jun 2019, 7:03 pm

I'm honestly not sure how to feel about it...


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kraftiekortie
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20 Jun 2019, 7:08 pm

I believe it's ridiculous to demand "reparations" from anybody who has never had a slave.

People today are not culpable for the sins of the past.

One of the great foundations of this country-----was the notion that debts cannot be passed from parent to child.



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20 Jun 2019, 7:25 pm

I believe the concept is more complicated than just reparations for slaves. It reflects more the overall societal benefit of increasing one's own wealth through the use of slave or poorly paid labor and whether we, as a civil society, want to level up the playing field.

I'm not saying I support the current efforts or that it is a good political move for the dems to take at this point in time.


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20 Jun 2019, 8:35 pm

I acknowledge the heinous things that Europeans did to non-Europeans in this country over its history. It's plainly obvious.

Some of this stuff is going on to this day, in a somewhat more subtle form.

I believe in "evening up the playing field." It's only fair. Affirmative Action had its place. Quotas had its place.

But not through reparations which are taken from tax money. I'm not for paying for the sins of the past. Because I wouldn't have committed those sins in those days.



sly279
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20 Jun 2019, 11:42 pm

kokopelli wrote:
Reparations to former slaves would be okay, but not to further generations. It is imperative that people take responsibility for their own lives instead of blaming their issues on previous generations.

Don’t think any former slaves are alive today so how would that work? Very few ww2 veterans are still alive.


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