Category: Modern issues, Public History, Repair and reparations Tags: Black history month, Buffalo Soldiers, Human trafficking, Jim Crow, Modern-day slavery, Reparations for slavery, Segregation, slavery, Tulsa Race Riot
Now that the 114th Congress has convened the first session of its two-year term, it’s time to take stock of the status of legislation related to slavery, race, and African American history. What happened to legislation which was pending before the 113th Congress, and what new legislation has already been proposed in the new session?
What legislation from the 113th Congress has returned?
Let’s start with H.R. 40, the perennial legislation introduced by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) in every Congress since the 101st back in 1989. H.R. 40 would establish a commission to study the history of slavery and its legacies, and to make recommendations for appropriate remedies. In the 113th Congress, H.R. 40 was prompted referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary, where Conyers is the ranking member (and former chair), and then sat in committee, without any further action being taken, from the first day of the Congress in January 2013 until it expired at the end of the session last week.
Rep. Conyers re-introduced H.R. 40 on Tuesday, which means that it is once again pending before Congress. The bill has been referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary, where it is likely to sit once again.
Incidentally, Rep. Conyers is now the longest-serving member of the U.S. House of Representatives, having been first elected to Congress in 1964 and having served the people of Michigan continuously since that time. As a result, he is now the “Dean of the House,” and had the ceremonial task of swearing in Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) as Speaker on Tuesday.
Another bill which has returned in the 114th Congress is H.Res. 13, a resolution which would recognize and support Black History Month. H.Res. 13, introduced by Rep. Al Green (D-Tex.), was known as H.Res. 481 in the 113th Congress, where it sat in the House Committee on Education and the Workforce for the better part of a year with no action being taken. H.Res. 13 has once again been referred to that committee for further action.
What new bills have been introduced in the 114th Congress?
Three bills related to human trafficking and modern slavery have been introduced before the 114th Congress this week.
Two of these bills refer generally to addressing human trafficking, although their texts are not yet available. H.R. 159, titled “To stop exploitation through trafficking,” was introduced by Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-Minn.) and is co-sponsored by Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wisc.). H.R. 181, entitled “To provide justice for the victims of trafficking,” was introduced by Rep. Ted Poe (R-Tex.) and is co-sponsored by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D.-N.Y.). There is also H.R. 63, offered by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.), which would require the Department of Homeland Security to set up a database to coordinate federal law enforcement investigations related to human trafficking
These bills follow in the footsteps of H.R. 4842, which was introduced in the 113th Congress by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, the co-sponsor of H.R. 181. H.R. 4842, the “Business Supply Chain Transparency on Trafficking and Slavery Act of 2014,” would have instructed the SEC to require annual reports from companies on what they are doing to identify and address conditions of slavery and human trafficking in their supply chains. This bill, which had bipartisan cosponsors, was introduced last year and died after languishing in the Committee on Financial Services and the Committee on Education and the Workforce.
What legislation from the last Congress has not (yet) returned in any form?
Two years ago, on the first day of the 113th Congress, Rep. Conyers introduced H.R. 98, the “John Hope Franklin Tulsa-Greenwood Race Riot Claims Accountability Act of 2013.” H.R. 98 was designed to provide reparations for the victims of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot and their descendants, by extending the statute of limitations for lawsuits. I wrote more extensively about H.R. 98 at that time. Congress took no action on this legislation over the past two years, and it has died without being replaced (yet, at any rate).
Finally, the 113th Congress saw bills introduced in both the House and Senate which would have commemorated the history of our nation’s Buffalo Soldiers. H.R. 520, the “Buffalo Soldiers in the National Parks Study Act,” was introduced in 2013 and passed in the House later that year. H.R. 520 then moved to the Senate for consideration, where S. 225, a parallel bill, had already been introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). However, these bills were not acted on and so they, too, expired last week.
There are many reasons to explore the history of the Buffalo Soldiers, not least because their history is one of pioneering courage in the face of racism, and which ties together slavery in the South with the history of the West. Next year, 2016, will mark the 150th anniversary of the congressional authorization of all-black Army regiments, which was the beginning of the Buffalo Soldiers. Hopefully Congress will see fit to commemorate its own action, a century and a half later, by passing legislation to mark this extraordinary history.