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Senators Introduce Reparations Bill for Descendants of Slaves

June 17, 2019, 11:16 AM HST (Updated June 19, 2019, 7:35 AM)
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CORRECTION: June 19, 6:15 a.m., Sen. Hirono’s Office

This release below misstated that S. 1083 was the first reparations bill introduced in the United States Senate. Sen. Mazie K. Hirono’s office recognizes, for example, that Sen. Spark Matsunaga previously introduced legislation to provide redress for Japanese-Americans incarcerated during World War II. S. 1083 is the first bill introduced in the Senate to consider proposals for reparations for African-American descendants of slaves.

ORIGINAL POST: June 17, 2019, 11:16 a.m.

Last week, Sens. Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawai‘i), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and 11 of their Senate colleagues introduced S. 1083, the HR 40 Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act, which establishes a commission to consider proposals for reparations for African-American descendants of slavery.

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The commission would address policies that continue to uphold systemic racism and result in disparities in economic and educational opportunities for African-Americans.

“The enslavement of Africans in America has had significant and long-lasting economic and social impacts on their descendants, who continue to face racial discrimination,” Sen. Hirono said. “It is time for a commission to study and suggest reparations proposals as part of a larger effort to ameliorate the systemic racism in American society. I hope we will see a report and recommendation from this commission before long.”

“We cannot address the institutional racism and white supremacy that has economically oppressed African-Americans for generations without first fully documenting the extent of the harms of slavery and its painful legacy,” Sen. Booker said. “It’s important that we right the wrongs of our nation’s most discriminatory policies, which halted the upward mobility of African-American communities. I’m encouraged to see this legislation to study the issue gain support in Congress and the shared commitment my colleagues have in doing our part to repair the harm done to African-Americans.”

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Specifically, S. 1083 would create a commission that would:

  • Compile and synthesize documentation of the institution of slavery, the role of federal and state governments in supporting slavery, and other forms of racial discrimination and lingering negative effects of such discrimination on African-Americans today;
  • Recommend appropriate remedies based on the commission’s findings; and
  • Submit a written report of its findings and recommendations to Congress.

S. 1083 is the only reparations bill ever introduced in the US Senate in the post-Reconstruction era. Approximately 4 million Africans and their descendants were enslaved over the two and a half centuries during which slavery thrived in the US.

Even after the abolition of slavery, the institution and its legacy were transformed into policies and practices that systemically exploited African Americans. African-American families have an average of less than 1/6 of the wealth of white families, and the unemployment rate for African Americans is more than twice the current white unemployment rate. According to U.S. Census data, on average, black women were paid 61% of what non-Hispanic white men were paid in 2017.

In addition to Sens. Hirono and Booker, S. 1083 is also cosponsored by US Sens. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Christopher Coons (D-Del.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.). Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) introduced the legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives, which has 57 cosponsors as well.

The full text of the bill is available here.

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