Rep. John Conyers re-introduces H.R. 40 on reparations for slavery and discrimination

Posted January 4th, 2013 by
Category: Repair and reparations Tags: , , ,

Representative John Conyers (D-Mich.) has re-introduced legislation before the 113th U.S. Congress to acknowledge slavery and racial discrimination, study their impact, and propose remedies.

H.R. 40, numbered in recognition of the unfulfilled promise to freed slaves of “40 acres and a mule,” has been introduced by Rep. Conyers at the start of every Congress since 1989. The bill bears the following formal title, as it has in previous years:

To acknowledge the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery in the United States and the 13 American colonies between 1619 and 1865 and 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.

If the past is any guide, the short title of H.R. 40 is likely to be, “Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act.”

H.R. 40 has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee for further consideration. Rep. Conyers is the ranking minority member of the Judiciary Committee, and chaired the committee the last time there was a Democratic majority in the House.

Rep. Conyers introduced the previous version of H.R. 40 at the start of the 112th Congress two years ago. It was also referred to the House Judiciary Committee, which referred it to the Subcommittee on the Constitution, where it languished until the 112th Congress expired this week.

We were honored to have Rep. Conyers speak at a press conference before the world premiere of our documentary, Traces of the Trade, at the Sundance Film Festival in 2008, to highlight the importance of understanding the nation’s complicity in slavery and discrimination in order to make progress towards racial healing and justice.

33 Comments »

33 Responses to “Rep. John Conyers re-introduces H.R. 40 on reparations for slavery and discrimination”

  1. Ifraj Schkoor Says:

    Some have said "Why hasn't he retired?"…..maybe THIS IS WHY!!

  2. Julie Siestreem Says:

    Thank you Rep.John Conyers for standing firm to see
    H.R.40 follows through with the imperative actions we need.

  3. Tracing Center | Reparations for the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 Says:

    [...] for the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 Rep. John Conyers re-introduces H.R. 40 on reparations for slavery and discrimination The Emancipation Proclamation’s 150th anniversary in context Katrina Browne on being [...]

  4. Kevin Abreu Says:

    Poor soul stuck in the past. A people or an individual cannot move forward if mired in the past. How exactly would the reparations be given or determined? There were slaves from non African countries also. Do these slaves not get reparations? While openly acknowledging that the business of slavery was abhorrent, are not the blacks in the US today better off than their present day ancestors in Africa? Aren't all US citizens from every origin, better off than their ancestors?

  5. James DeWolf Perry Says:

    Kevin, I think it's important to understand that Rep. Conyers isn't necessarily asking for financial payments to the descendants of slaves. He's acknowledging a basic truth, that the history of slavery in this country has profound social, economic, and political ramifications today, and is asking for those "living consequences" to be studied and possible solutions examined.

    In other words, this isn't about remaining mired in the past, but the exact opposite: acknowledging this "abhorrent" history, as you put it, and finally addressing its consequences so that we can all move forward together, as one people.

  6. Britain Comes Clean on Slave Fortunes » The Greanville Post —Vol. VII- 2013 Says:

    [...] Rep. John Conyers has a bill before the House, HR 40, that would “establish a commission to examine the institution of slavery, subsequently de jure [...]

  7. TheFunk Says:

    Let him study the effects of Negro liberalis — welfare, crime, family breakdown — on blacks today.

    Oh right, he's not interested in that….its been his political agenda since the 1960's !!!!

  8. Cody FIre Says:

    He's asking for $9,000 a person… he's a snake in the grass

  9. James DeWolf Perry Says:

    Cody, where did you hear that Rep. Conyers wants payments of $9,000 per person, and why does that make him a "snake in the grass"? His bill, for instance, doesn't ask for financial payments to anyone, but simply asks for a study of the issue, with all options on the table.

  10. Melene brown Says:

    I always shake my head in disgust when people leave comments like ” get over it”, or ”leave what’s in the past in the past”. why is it that African Americans on a whole have to forget? Jewish people raise their children to ”never forget the holocaust, so why do we have to forget slavery. The effects were apparent even while my grandfather fought to free the jews during WWII, against the Nazi’s and while he was called a ”nigger” in his own country he was freeing jews from the reign of Hitler. I honestly dont understand the gaul of some people. I will not stand idly by, my forefathers helped build these United States Of America FOR FREE! On my mom’s side and on my dad’s. My People suffered, aren’t we at the least owed what other nations have already received and what we were promised by our Country eons ago and never received?

  11. lucy Says:

    The United States owes us and until we are financially compensated there will be no justice.

  12. guest Says:

    Personally, I believe that a good portion of the US southern states should be set aside for black Americans. What is so difficult about black people in this country being truly free? Why are white Americans so afraid of this?

  13. Yalonda Says:

    It wont change the past, but we are all taught young,that they hung ,raped african descendants physically and mentally. We still have lost our identities, and forever live with slave names and hate crimes. maybe a debt could make them realize what happen still keeps african americans opressed. Truth told the hate for black skin has not left, it only changed.

  14. Thomas Says:

    If we pay them will they leave? Slavery brought the negroes to America without it they would still be barefoot and starving in Africa. Their ancestors suffered but the descendents have reaped great benefits. They have already been given to much they didn't have to work for.

  15. James DeWolf Perry Says:

    Thomas, if it weren't for slavery, you, too, would have a much lower standard of living. That's a simple historical fact, based on how much the U.S. economy depended on slave labor for its development, and especially for its ability to industrialize, rather than become trapped in the same economics of resource extraction and agricultural production that still keeps living standards relatively low in Africa and throughout the developing world.

    Perhaps, instead of viewing your fellow citizens as "them" and as people who (unlike you, apparently) ought to be perpetually grateful not to be living elsewhere, you could see them as Americans who have at least as much claim on this country, its history, and its successes as you or anyone else. You acknowledge that their ancestors did not come here by choice, and were brutally exploited, to the lasting benefit of the white majority. In the 150 years since slavery ended, however, black families have continued to suffer constant, and often deadly, racial discrimination. While conditions have improved in some ways in recent decades, this basic circumstance has not ended, and the idea that black Americans have somehow been given more than white Americans is simply based on misinformation.

  16. Thomas Says:

    If instead of feeling owed the negroes would take the jobs that they are qualified for that are available they could earn their living and work their way up as every other group has. Compare the unemployment numbers of Negroes vs Mexicans. The Mexicans maybe swam a river, walked across a desert, can't speak the language and yet they find work to support themselves.

  17. James DeWolf Perry Says:

    Thomas, the unemployment rate is very high, and the black unemployment rate (those who are actively looking for work and unable to find it) is about double the white unemployment rate. Research also consistently shows widespread racial discrimination in employment in this country. So I don't think it helps to assume that the jobs must be there, or that black Americans aren't willing to take them — much less that black Americans must be less qualified than other groups.

    It's also a myth that other groups in this country's history have worked their way up on their own. Take white families in this country, for instance. For all the hard work that white workers have put into getting ahead, white families have also benefited enormously from, among other things, slave labor. (This is true of white families both before and after the end of slavery itself.) And the 20th century saw massive federal aid programs for working-class and middle-class white families, from which black families were systematically excluded. Those programs were essential to building what we now consider the nation's middle class; it simply wasn't done through individual hard work alone.

    As for your example of Mexican immigrants, I agree with you that someone who fought hard just to get here is, almost by definition, willing to endure a great deal in order to get ahead. But the same thing is true of many black Americans, despite the legacy of slavery today. You seem to assume, however, that many black citizens don't bother to take jobs that are available to them, and that Mexican immigrants have no trouble finding work. The unemployment statistics tell a very different story.

  18. University Study Puts A Face On The Modern-Day, Lingering Effects of Transatlantic Slavery | North American Reparations Taskforce Says:

    […] Most people think that to get the United States to begin honoring its reparations obligations for Transatlantic Slavery, Blacks need to wait years and years for the U.S. Congress to institute legislation to study the effects of slavery. […]

  19. Pehty Re Says:

    Whats silly to me is how White people think they did Africans a favor by kidnapping us from Africa. This is crazy and unintelligent talk. Africa was a rich powerful place to live during the so called middle ages for white people. Africa did not fall until white colonial powers began to invade and exploit dissension among African nations.What people see today in Africa is a result of colonial powers exploration of Africa. This sad miss information about Africa's history is why im working on the First ever African Reference Encyclopedia {NoopooH.org} that will tell the true story of Africa and its peoples achievements to the world.

    Also if Africa was so poor and backwards why is the African ruler of the 14th century Mansa Musa listed as the riches human of all times. Not that i agree with him being listed because it could make people think that he exploited his people when he did no such thing.

    support NoopooH.org – become a member

  20. jackie Says:

    Yes Thomas, it's called Slave Labor. Only now you all do it to the Mexicans. How could the Laziest people on the planet get rich w/o Free Labor?

  21. Cynthia Says:

    The Levittown Story …after World War II black Fathers came home after fighting in a segregated army only to find themselves blocked by an ordinance from purchasing a Levitt home this was the beginning of suburbia the price of a Levitt home was 2,500 This was the beginning of middle class in America and our black families were locked out by an ordinance the homes could not be sold to Blacks. This ordinance was still in place until the late 1960 possibly beyond. Levittown Long Island New York was the first suburb developed in the United States of America. This story was always told in our families and how this impeded our economic development homeownership was critical to our economic advancement and we were not allowed the experience of financial growth

  22. Billie Says:

    Sorry but there is no justification for today's generations to pay for the sins of the distant past in this country. I am all for rich plantation owners who had slaves to pay but they are all dead. Don't blame me for what people did hundreds of years ago because that make you insane and a racist.

  23. James DeWolf Perry Says:

    Billie, perhaps you could explain a bit more about what you mean. Whether or not reparations for slavery and racial discrimination are a good idea, there isn't really "no justification" for having the nation pay today for the sins of the past, is there? After all, many Americans today are suffering directly as a result of this history, while the nation collectively, and many individual citizens, still enjoy tremendous benefits from the same history. The benefits of slavery didn't just accrue to "rich plantation owners," but also to millions and millions of white American families, throughout the country. The same is true of the racial discrimination of the Jim Crow era, and even of the substantial prejudice and systemic racism today that continue to ensure that black and white citizens have different opportunities in our society. Whether or not reparations are, on balance, good policy, it just isn't possible to dismiss reparations supporters as "insane" or "racist," without ignoring our history and its legacy today.

  24. Cynthia Says:

    Billie, I understand the way you feel in terms of the sins of the father being passed to the son. What I would like to see happen in our country is the Billie 's of the United States of American to have been taught this American history in elementary school right along with George Washington and the cherry tree. The Levittown story was just one of the stories I could tell. I am the great grand-daughter of Lewis Garnett Jordan born into slavery with no name he took the name of three benefactors who had befriended and helped him. Out of those borrowed names came one of the best preachers and church builders and advocate for justice the race has produced. In 1896, he became the third a Executive Secretary of the Foreign Mission Board. He was a temperance advocate, which won him the respect of the American people, who nominated him for the United States Congress on the Prohibition ticket. There are so many stories like these that have never been told millions of Africans suffered under the yolk of slavery in utter silence. I don't need you to feel guilty I need future generations to know the history. If you want to know what I would like from my government a Declaration of Honor presented to Lewis Garnett Jordan's great great grandchildren for services rendered under the yolk of slavery.

  25. Johnnie Oneworld Says:

    Slaves of all colors were forcefully brought to America and other ports throughout the world. African slaves were captured by powerful African tribes and sold to dealers (Jewish, Arab and Spanish traders) who, in turn, sold slaves to user countries.
    Slaves worked under a harsh shield of forced labor six days a week. Slaves in America lived in slave quarters and were supplied food and clothing. Immigrants were forced out of their homelands due to oppression or worse. They worked every day for pennies that had to pay for food, clothing and shelter for them and their families. Many blacks want to selfishly discount the suffering of others, especially Europeans, because they feel they had it made simply because they were white.
    The point is, all of our ancestors have suffered blood, sweat and tears for America's benefit. Most of these folks were, one way or another, forced here. And when they arrived most, like the Irish and Italians, were met with vile hatred, prejudice and bias.
    The real culprits are: the African tribes who sold black slaves, England for enslaving/forcing folks of all colors and creeds to America, Arab, Jewish and Spanish dealers for funding the slave trade enterprise and all the folks black and white who owned slaves. These are the folks who should pay for their sins.
    It's absolutely absurd to demand reparations from white folks in America simply because they're white. White privilege is a fallacy relative to 95% of white America.

  26. James DeWolf Perry Says:

    Johnnie, white privilege is absolutely relevant to 100% of white America. For starters, whatever privileges and disadvantages each of us may have, race does matter. Poor white Americans, for instance, enjoy advantages that poor black Americans, in otherwise the same circumstances, don't have. (See, for example, this article.)

    Now, you're quite right to imply that no white American today should be blamed for the sins of others, in the past, or be punished for that past. However, let's be clear what that past was. Most black Americans in the 17th through 19th centuries endured chattel slavery, which involved backbreaking labor, brutal violence, and the loss of language, culture, religion, and family. Those who were enslaved were routinely raped and forcibly separated from spouses and children. There is simply no comparing this experience with that of white immigrants, even those who endured hard work or faced a milder form of prejudice, and it certainly isn't true that most European immigrants were forced to come here. On the contrary, most European immigrants chose to come here, because there were jobs available in the New World, and many of those jobs (such as mill workers, factory workers, dock workers, and small family farmers) existed largely because of slavery.

    Also relevant to the reparations issue is that white families in this country. no matter how hard previous generations had it, have long since been able to move past any early history of low pay or prejudice, moving into the mainstream and coming to be seen as fully white, no longer facing discrimination in housing, education, and employment. This isn't true for black families. For instance, during the Jim Crow era, black families faced brutal violence and oppression through the country, at the same time as white families, of all ethnic backgrounds, benefited from New Deal and other programs designed to build a white middle class through aid for homeownership, education, and small businesses.

    You're also blaming a wide variety of groups for the transatlantic slave trade, while trying hard to exclude the Americans responsible for it. Yes, the British, Spanish, and other European countries were involved in the slave trade, but so were a great many American families, both wealthy merchant families and ordinary, lower- or middle-class families looking to get ahead. And of course many white American families bought and owned those slaves, which presumably makes them just as responsible as those selling them. In the North, many middle class white families owned slaves. It's true that in the South, slaves were more concentrated on large plantations, but all southern white families benefited from slavery, as this was the mainstay of the southern economy.

  27. old southern girl Says:

    African Americans of slave descent and native Americans should never have to pay any kind of tax in the USA. African Americans and Native Americans over the age 65 should have their social security doubled.
    Read Atlantic case for reparations.
    Let al of the immigrents to the USA pay to carry the country and build the country with their tax dollars.
    African Americans of slave descent, have paid this country and been used by this country for hundreds of years. After H.R. 40 is discussed we can move on to the next step.

  28. Randy Wilson Says:

    How can we spur action on HR 40?

  29. cynthia Says:

    We are not demanding reparation from white folks in America simply because they’re white.

    International Human Rights Law

    “Between 1817 and 1871 bilateral treaties between Britain and several other countries (eventually including the United States of America) led to the establishment of the international courts for the supression of the slave trade. Though all but forgotten today, these anti-Slavery Courts were the first international human rights courts. They were made up from judges of different countries. They sat on a permanent continuing basis and applied international law. They were explicity aimed at promoting humanitarian objectives.Over the life span of the treaties, the courts heard more than 600 cases and freed almost 80,000 slaves from aboard illegal slave trading vessels. During their peak years of operation, the courts heard cases that may have involved as many as one out of every four or five ships involved in the trans-atlantic slave trade.

    These international anti-slavery courts have been given scant attention by historians and have been almost completely ignored by legal scholars. Most legal scholars view international courts and international human rights law as largely a Post World War II phenomenon with the Nuremberg Trail of the Nazi War Criminals as the seminal moment in the turn to international law as a mechanism for protecting individual rights. But in fact, contrary to the conventional wisdom, the nintieth century slavery abolition movement was the first successful international human rights campaign and international treaties and courts were its central feature.

    An international legal institution that had a direct and tangible impact on 80,000 human lives is far more than a footnote in the history of international law.”

  30. Dorken Macauliffe Says:

    Who exactly is it that these people are suggesting should pay them? The current 2014 American citizenry? My ancestors came from Ireland and Scotland between 1900 and 1910. Now their progeny that are in the US are in the hundreds. All white/caucasion people. Are you somehow suggesting that they (I) owe you something?

  31. James DeWolf Perry Says:

    "Are you somehow suggesting that they (I) owe you something?"

    I think you have that exactly right. The argument is this: Your white, European ancestors came to this country about fifty years after slavery ended. Which meant that they weren't complicit in slavery itself, but they benefited substantially from the nation's history of slavery and racial discrimination. And you, yourself, now benefit from the ways in which white Americans are privileged in this country.

    European immigrants in the era you're talking about almost always came to these shores because our booming, industrialized economy offered ample jobs. Those jobs existed largely because of what slavery had made possible; those jobs were created largely on the backs of the enslaved. Why? Slavery built not only the southern plantation economy, but also the northern commercial, maritime, agricultural, and manufacturing economies. Slavery was the backbone of the U.S. economy, north and south, in colonial times, and the same is true, with the addition of the midwest, in the antebellum era. Slavery also made it possible for the U.S. to industrialize, which was critical to our economic success in the 19th and 20th centuries, and to that demand for labor that brought large waves of immigrants from Europe throughout those centuries.

    Immigrants from Europe often arrived on these shores with little in the way of money or education, and had to work hard to make a better life for their descendants. But they were also able to immediately leapfrog millions of American families, who were facing brutal racial discrimination and violence in the Jim Crow century. This meant the white immigrant families had access to education, jobs, and other ways of prospering that were closed off to black families. White immigrant families may not have asked for these advantages, but they benefited from them then, and still do.

    Meanwhile, racial discrimination is still prevalent in all walks of life in the U.S., which means that simply being white, or a person of color, matters tremendously to our opportunities and to the quality of our lives. Research consistently shows that this is true in education, employment, healthcare, home ownership … the list goes on and on. Even baseball umpires and basketball umpires are consistently shown to be unconsciously prejudiced in their officiating.

    This doesn't mean that you, or any other white person, ought to be punished for enjoying unearned privileges. But it does make for a plausible case that perhaps our nation, collectively, ought to try to correct the racial inequities that still exist today as a result of this history.

  32. Ian Burrow Says:

    I have just read Ta-Neshi Coates' piece on Reparations in the June edition of Atlantic Monthly. I would recommend it to everyone, whatever your viewpoint on this matter. It seems to me that the racial injustice that has been inflicted so disproportionately and for so long on American people of African descent truly remains a shameful cancer eating at the very soul of this country. I came here in the late 1980's (White, educated, Anglo) naively imagining that the Civil Rights movement had dealt with the problems I had been made so aware of in the 1960's. I of course soon discovered how wrong I was. It can, I agree seem, absurd and even unjust to suggest that people like myself should make reparation for actions taken by unrelated Others long ago. However, HR 40, if passed by Congress (and if not then determined unconsitutional by the increasingly strange Supreme Court), would at least enable this tortured matter to be discussed in an orderly and considered manner at the National level.

  33. wwhite boy slimm Says:

    Hr 40 is a joke. Its just another way for blacks to get a handout. We should discuss how all these blacks should pay for the white people who fought for their freedom and political rights. So I see we are even. Plus no black alive has been a slave so it seems ignorant to fight for something they never knew. Plus if this bill ever passed well lets say blacks will actually get to show white people what their made of in another civil war.. last time I remembered whites are the minority of the world. And blacks have a whole continent but never built a city….hmmm wonder why because white people have slaughtered billions even eradicate races. Plus we invent conqure lands and explore. Sso to put things inretrospect. Blacks have it great! Because if it wasnt for whity they would still be wearing gourds on their privates chucking spears at lions and killing themselves.

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