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Practical Politics

The politics of fighting for reparations for African Americans

David L. Horne, PH.D. | 1/12/2017, midnight

On the day the 115th Congress convened, Jan. 3, long-serving Rep. John Conyers, the author since 1989 of a bill dubbed H.R. 40 (in memory of the 40 acres and a mule concept) re-introduced a new version of his legislation.

This new version, officially entitled a “Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act,” more explicitly cited the legislative goal of the proposed bill as the creation and funding (up to $12 million) to create a federal commission to study and consider a national apology and proposals for reparations for the institution of slavery in the USA. This is different from the goals of the 1989-2015 version of the bill which sought “to establish a commission to examine the institution of slavery, subsequently de jure and de facto racial and economic discrimination against African Americans, and the impact of these forces on living African Americans, to make recommendations to the Congress on appropriate remedies, and for other purposes.” This version had a requested budget of $8 million.

This newer version was partially a response by Rep. Conyers to the current situation of the 14 CARICOM countries filing suit in the UN’s International Court of Justice in the Hague, the Netherlands, in July, 2014, against Great Britain, France and the Netherlands for reparations because of the Transatlantic Slave Trade and its consequences on Caribbean nations and their citizens, and the establishment of national reparations commissions in all 14 of these countries. In order to better fit the USA reparations movement into that larger international engagement, H.R. 40 needed a facelift to accompany the 2015 creation of a USA National Reparations Commission. CARICOM countries include Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Montserrat, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Suriname. Through Haiti, France was sued, and through Suriname, the Netherlands.

Another significant difference in the earlier and the newer version of H.R. 40 is that in the first version, a seven-member study commission was called for, and in the newer version, that body was increased to a 13-member study commission. The latter, once established, would have three members appointed by the POTUS, three by the House of Representatives, one by the U.S. Senate, and six by the Black academic community.

Clearly, the annexation of the USA reparations movement into the international effort is a very important development, but the same huge problem remains of trying to get the U.S. Congress to do more than it has already done on this issue which is not much. In the era of Donald Trump, the prospects would seem to be slim to none of changing that result.

However, as California’s Reparations United Front (RUF) joins the National Reparations Commission, it will bring with it a new approach to getting beyond that long impasse. More information on this will be brought to the California public in a few weeks. Stay tuned.

Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.

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