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'The original sin': Historic US slavery reparations hearing sparks strong arguments

Democratic Senator Cory Booker Source: AP

The first US congressional hearing in ten years to debate compensation for the descendants of slaves has been held.

A bill proposing potential reparations for descendants of slaves drew debate on Wednesday (June 19) during a U.S. House subcommittee hearing, marking the first time in a decade lawmakers have grappled with the divisive issue.

The bill, H.R. 40, would create a commission to study the history of slavery in America and develop proposals for reparations.

"The response of the United States of America long overdue. Slavery is the original sin," Sheila Jackson Lee, the congresswoman from Texas who sponsored the bill, said during the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties hearing.

Sheila Jackson Lee speaks at a hearing of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties
Sheila Jackson Lee speaks at a hearing of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties
AP

Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, who is a presidential candidate, said the US has "yet to truly acknowledge and grapple with the racism and white supremacy that tainted this country's founding and continues to cause persistent and deep racial disparities and inequality."

The hearing drew other prominent African Americans, including actor Danny Glover, who described his own experience as a descendant of slaves.

"A national reparations policy is a moral, democratic and economic imperative," Glover said.

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., greets actor and activist Danny Glover as he arrives to testify
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., greets actor and activist Danny Glover as he arrives to testify
AP

Writer Ta-Nehisi Coates authored an article entitled "The Case for Reparations" in The Atlantic in 2014, highlighting the issue for many Americans.

"This body has a chance to both make good on its 2009 apology for enslavement and reject fair weather patriotism," he said during his testimony.

But while all of the witnesses acknowledged continued disparities between the races in America, not all of the witnesses favored reparations as a solution.

"What reparation does is it points to a certain race, a certain color, and it points them as evil and points the other race, my race, as one that not only becomes racist, but also beggars," Burgess Owens, a retired National Football League player said.

Members of the New Black Panther Party gathered in the hallway outside the hearing
Members of the New Black Panther Party gathered in the hallway outside the hearing
AP

In a news conference on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he opposed slavery reparations because it would be difficult to determine who would be compensated.

The hearing comes amid a growing discussion in the Democratic Party about reparations.

Several of the party's presidential candidates have endorsed looking at the idea, though they have stopped short of endorsing direct payouts for African Americans.

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