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The ‘new-old’ and continuing politics of dealing with reparations

Practical Politics

David L. Horne, Ph.D ow contribuor | 6/27/2019, 10:05 a.m.

On Wednesday, June 19, 2019, otherwise known as Juneteenth, the House Judiciary Committee, the same committee trying to wrest the truth from Donald Trump’s collaborators, held the second, the biggest, and the most publicized hearing in Washington, D.C. on slave reparations. Former Congressman John Conyers, over ten years ago when he was chair of the Judiciary Committee, had held a previous hearing, urged by N’COBRA (the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America). The gathering that time was much smaller though just as spirited.

This hearing on Juneteenth had celebrities (Danny Glover and Ta-Nehisi Coates); well-known activists (Julianne Malveaux); congresspeople (Cory Booker, Karen Bass, Sheila Jackson Lee); and community leaders speaking on behalf of the passage of the current version of H.R. 40, the famous bill introduced and re-introduced as legislation in the House of Representatives from 1989 until 2019 (mostly by former congressman Conyers until the current 116th session of Congress when Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee did the honors).

What H.R. 40 had going for it this time, finally, was also a large number of House members sympathetic to its subject and very interested in its passage. There is finally an excellent chance that the bill will see the light of day and get passed in the House of Representatives. It faces, however, an almost certain death in this session of the U.S. Senate, given that the Senate Majority Leader, who has to allow it to receive both a hearing and a floor vote in the Senate, has already spoken vehemently and publicly against it. 

What needs to be done to avoid that Senate decapitation? Two things can help here. First, Mitch McConnell and the U.S. Senate have to be reminded that in 2009, the Senate voted overwhelmingly in favor of Senate Resolution 26, which was the strongest, most comprehensive apology to the African-American community for slavery, Jim Crowism and systematic racism ever given by any part of the USA government. Mitch McConnell voted in the affirmative for that resolution ( it was passed by unanimous consent) and needs to be reminded of that seminal moment. 

The second tactic that needs to be brought in is testimonies from a number of qualified historians of slavery and other forms of discrimination against African-Americans. In the 2019 hearing, one noticeable absence was the presence of people who have actually done the hard-nosed research and writing about the issue. There are plenty of noted historians who can and should be invited to the discussion to boost the reparations firepower.

And while we have the ear of a substantial number of legislators, we should also ask for a reification (to make more real) of another John Conyers’ effort, the restoration of the Tulsa-Greenwood Race Riot Claims Accountability Act, last put forward by the former Congressman in 2013. That legislation was intended to overcome a statute of limitations-based court ruling that denied justice to the survivors of the 1921 Tulsa-Greenwood (Black Wall Street) race riot that has been dubbed the most brutal racial riot and act of domestic terrorism in U.S. History.

In summary, that attack by white mobs and the Oklahoma National Guard bombed, burned and destroyed virtually every home and business owned by Black citizens in the Greenwood section of Tulsa, Okla. making over 1,200 people homeless overnight, and killing at least 300 individuals, including women and children. Greenwood had been the most successful Black township in U.S. history.  

Federal legislation waiving the statue of limitations would allow the court case filed by reparations attorneys to be brought back and to finally be heard and judged on its merits and not some technicality.

This time, a real difference can be made. 

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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