Rep. Cori Bush Introduces Legislation To Revive Federal Reparations For Black Americans

It has been more than 30 years since the first reparations bill was introduced in the House.

House Democrats breathed new life into the federal reparations movement for Black Americans, as state and city-level efforts moved forward.

Rep. Cori Bush, a Missouri Democrat, introduced a resolution Wednesday (May 17) calling for $14 trillion in reparations to compensate Black Americans for the chattel slavery of their ancestors and for the many decades of government approved racist policies that followed.

“The United States has a moral and legal obligation to provide reparations for the enslavement of Africans and its lasting harm on the lives of millions of Black people in the United States,” a draft of the resolution reads, according to The Washington Post.

In 1989, the late Michigan Democratic Rep. John Conyers Jr. became the first lawmaker to introduce a reparations bill in the House, which called for a commission to study slavery and restitution. Since then, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Texas Democrat, has spearheaded the effort, which won approval of H.R. 40 in a House Judiciary Committee vote in 2021 to create the commission but has since stalled.

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“The only way we get closer to [reparations] is if we start putting forward those bills that speak to it and are very clear about what reparations could look like,” Bush, a Black Lives Matter organizer, told The Post.

Advancing reparations, especially in the form of cash payments, is an uphill battle that largely divides the nation along racial lines. Opponents typically argue that slavery and Jim Crow laws are historic wrongs of past generations, and that it is unfair to hold accountable people today who had no direct connection to slavery.

Meanwhile, the movement for reparations marches forward in states and cities across the nations. Efforts at the state level have advanced the furthest in California, where a nine-member reparations task force voted May 6 to recommend that state lawmakers provide billions of dollars to qualified Black residents.

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But it appears doubtful that Gov. Gavin Newsom and state legislators, even those who support reparations payments, would green light a proposal that costs more than twice the annual state budget during challenging economic times. Newsom, however, has expressed support for state spending on programs to end racial disparities in health, education, homeownership and other areas.

In New York, state Assemblywoman Michaella C. Solanges spoke with in December about her plans to pass a reparations bill during the 2023 legislative session, which would create a reparations commission to study the history of slavery in New York and the racial discrimination that followed. A reparations commission bill was first proposed in the 2017-18 legislative session by Brooklyn former Assemblyman Charles Barron.

At the city level, Evanston, Ill., a Chicago suburb, in 2021 became the first city to make reparations available to Black residents. It’s a plan tailored to address the city’s history of racial housing discrimination. Since then, several other cities, including St. Paul, Minn., and St. Louis, have taken steps to form reparation commissions.

In January, San Francisco’s reparations committee made headlines when it recommended paying qualified Black residents $5 million as compensation for generations of systemic racial discrimination.

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