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The topic of reparations for slavery is headed to Capitol Hill for its first hearing in more than a decade with the writer Ta-Nehisi Coates and actor Danny Glover set to testify before a House of Representatives panel.
The House judiciary subcommittee on the constitution, civil rights and civil liberties is scheduled to hold the hearing on 19 June, with its stated purpose “to examine, through open and constructive discourse, the legacy of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, its continuing impact on the community and the path to restorative justice”.
The date of the hearing coincides with Juneteenth, a cultural holiday commemorating the emancipation of enslaved Africans in America. The former Democratic representative John Conyers of Michigan, the longtime sponsor of House Resolution 40, first proposed the measure calling for a study of reparations in 1989.
Conyers reintroduced the bill every session until his resignation in 2017, following sexual harassment allegations.
The Texas Democratic representative Sheila Jackson Lee, the resolution’s new sponsor, introduced it earlier this year and pushed for next week’s hearing. The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, said in February that she supports a reparations study, a topic that has not been the subject of a House hearing since 2007.
Reparations had been a semi-dormant issue and occasional punchline in recent years, until Coates’s 2014 essay in the Atlantic magazine, The Case for Reparations, thrust the topic back into the national discourse.
In an interview with Coates as he prepared to leave the presidency, Barack Obama questioned the implementation of reparations, but not the concept.
And in a conversation Coates had earlier this year with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democratic representative of New York, the popular progressive freshman member of Congress endorsed reparations.
The reparations debate became part of the 2020 presidential race early, as several Democratic presidential primary candidates signaled their support for compensating the descendants of slaves, though not in the traditional sense of direct payouts to black Americans. Most have been vague on more specific ideas, but they have instead offered policies addressing economic inequality wth measures that could disproportionately benefit blacks.