Congresswoman on reparations: It's America's 'responsibility to pay her debt' for slavery
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) on Wednesday called for the passage of her bill to study slave reparations, arguing that it's "the American government's responsibility to pay her debt," regardless of how many Americans today do not have slaveowners in their family history.
The Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act, which has 131 Democratic co-sponsors in the House, would establish a committee to "examine slavery and discrimination in the colonies and the United States from 1619 to the present and recommend appropriate remedies."
Jackson Lee connected her bill to the death of George Floyd, who died May 25 in the custody of Minneapolis police. His death has sparked weeks of nationwide protests calling for an end to police brutality toward Black Americans.
"The American government still owes a debt," Jackson Lee said at a press conference with other members of the Congressional Black Caucus. "The Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act is the answer to the original sin. It is, in fact, a restorative and repair approach to the extreme disparities that rendered and exhibited the horrors of the killing and the murder of my former constituent, George Floyd."
Jackson Lee also said the "fundamental injustice and humanity of slavery have never been answered."
"The key question here is that as the slaves were free, there was no tangible wealth given for their work of over 200 years; that lack of wealth, reflected in the anger and anguish of those who received them, that led into a broken reconstruction, Jim Crowism, 4,000 African Americans lynched and then a period of attempt at civil rights and the loss of the civil rights battlers, in essence on the civil rights battlefield," she said.
"Affirmative action now being attacked. Now we come to a point of enormous disparities in health care in the idea of wealth, the idea of education and the idea of disparities in youth and housing and the justice system," she added.
Jackson Lee responded to those who point out that their families "did not have slaves" or who argue that they should not be held responsible today for the actions of their ancestors.
"This 13-member commission, established by the federal government, answers the question that is not the individual act of holding slaves. It is the government sanction that denied African Americans their equality, and as well the government's responsibility with this 13-member commission to design the responses to the continued death, murder and inequities in our community," she said. "This is America's responsibility to pay. The American government's responsibility to pay her debt."
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said on Wednesday that Jackson Lee's bill is among the Congressional Black Caucus backed legislation being considered for a vote in the House.