WASHINGTON — In a packed hearing before a congressional panel on Wednesday, writer Ta-Nehisi Coates and actor Danny Glover called for reparations for slavery.
Coates and Glover were discussing a bill, H.R. 40, the "Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act," which would not allocate money for reparations but would set up a committee to find ways to do so.
Coates, whose June 2014 Atlantic cover story "The Case for Reparations" had helped kickstart the current discussion about reparations, argued that "it is impossible to imagine America without the inheritance of slavery."
A wide variety of proposals for slavery reparations have been proposed, including mental health care for African-American descendants of slaves, investments in infrastructure in historically marginalized communities, or direct payments.
Coates directly addressed Senate Majority Mitch McConnell's opposition to the bill during his remarks.
"We grant that Mr. McConnell was not alive for Appomattox...He was alive to witness kleptocracy in his native Alabama, in a regime premised by electoral theft. Majority Leader McConnell cited the passage of civil rights legislation yesterday, as well he should, because he was alive to witness the harassment, jailing, and betrayal of those responsible for those legislation, our government sworn to protect them."
McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, had made comments on Tuesday in opposition to the reparations bill.
"I don’t think reparations for something that happened 150 years ago for whom none of us currently living are responsible is a good idea," he said in a news conference. “We’ve tried to deal with our original sin of slavery by fighting a civil war, by passing landmark civil rights legislation. We elected an African-American president."
Glover explained to the committee that he was just a few generations removed from slavery.
"I sit here as the great-grandson of a former slave, Mary Brown, who was freed by the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863," Glover explained. "I had the fortune of meeting her as a small child."
Glover continued by discussing the need for change.
"The comfortable, the entrenched, the privileged cannot continue to tremble at the prospect of change in the status quo," he said.
The top Republican on the committee, Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., argued against the bill, saying that it might result in an "unconstitutional racial preference," and said that they would result in "money from current taxpayers for the sins of a small subset of Americans," which drew boos from the audience.
"My wife Kelly and I actually have a much older son, who happens to be African American...I mention that today for one reason. I personally know the challenges he has faced early in his life. I have walked with him through discrimination he's had to endure over the years and the hurdles he's sometimes faced. I know all of this because I was with it."
The bill currently has 64 Democratic cosponsors, but it faces a long road to passage in the House. A version of the bill has been introduced in every session of Congress since 1989, according to NBC, though it has never picked up enough traction to pass. A companion Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Cory Booker, faces even slimmer odds in the Republican-controlled chamber.
"I feel a sense of anger where we are in the United States of America where we have not had direct conversations about a lot of the root causes of the inequities and the pain and the hurt," Booker said during the hearing. "We as a nation have not yet acknowledged and grappled with racism and white supremacy that has tainted this country and continues today."
The idea has recently broken into the political mainstream, and several Democratic presidential candidates have come out in favor of some form of reparations or the study of ways to implement reparations, including Booker, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Kamala Harris, and Marianne Williamson.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ta-Nehisi Coates, Danny Glover call for slavery reparations before Congress