Groups bringing national reparations debate to Detroit
DETROIT (AP) — Two national organizations pushing for federal legislation on reparations for descendants of African American slaves are bringing their agendas and messages to Detroit.
The Detroit-based Reparations Labor Union has scheduled a summit in June, which later the same week will be followed by the national conference for the Washington-based National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America, also known as N’Cobra.
Both events come as a national dialogue on reparations is underway and other issues related to race are attracting increasing attention. A number of Democratic candidates for president have come out in support of discussing some form of repayment to descendants of slaves. The U.S. has no reparations policy when it comes to African Americans, though legislation creating a study commission has been introduced in Congress.
But “the recognition of (reparations) has now gotten more validation,” said Jumoke Ifetayo, N’Cobra’s southeast regional representative. “I think that is going to help the movement. More and more people are saying ‘Hey, this really could happen in my lifetime.'”
The practice of bringing enslaved Africans to what would become the United States appears to have started in 1619 when about 20 slaves were brought to Jamestown, Virginia, then a British colony. Over the next two centuries, more than 300,000 men, women and children arrived in what is now the U.S. after being forcibly taken from Africa, according to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database. They primarily worked the fields and plantations in the southern colonies and later the Southern states.
Slavery in the U.S. officially ended in 1865 when the 13th Amendment was ratified. Union Army General William Sherman promised compensation to freed slaves in the form of land and mules to farm it — hence the phrase “40 acres and a mule” — after the North’s victory over the South in the Civil War. But President Andrew Johnson took away the offer.
More than 120 years later, then-Rep. John Conyers, a Detroit Democrat, first introduced H.R. 40. He reintroduced it in every congressional session until he resigned in 2017. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Texas Democrat, reintroduced the bill last year.
In April, presidential candidate and Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey filed the Senate companion to H.R. 40.
Other candidates have shared their ideas in recent weeks.
Sen. Kamala Harris of California pledged to sign legislation creating a commission to study reparations. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont prefers a broader policy on poverty, but said he would sign that reparations bill. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts supports a congressional proposal to study a framework for reparations.
Beto O’Rourke, a former Texas congressman, has said he would support legislation that would create a reparations study commission.
“The proof is in the pudding with people signing on to (reparations) legislation and people actually endorsing the legislation,” said Ron Daniels, president of The Institute of the Black World 21st Century and convener of the National African American Reparations Commission, which has hearings and town hall meetings around the country.