MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee advanced a decades-long effort to approve a bill that would establish a commission to study and develop proposals to help repair the lasting effects of slavery.
Many believe the way to make amends for slavery is reparations -- making amends by giving African Americans the modern-day equivalent of the 40 acres and a mule their ancestors never received.
“Years of discrimination and prejudice, and any beliefs, thoughts, programs that the commission thought could help rectify the lingering consequences of those awful acts. America’s original sin,” said U.S. Congressman Steve Cohen, (D) Tennessee. Congressman Cohen, who cast a yes vote on that committee, says this bill is a long time coming.
It was initially introduced by Democratic Rep. John Conyers in 1989, but Democratic Representative Sheila Jackson Lee took up the mantle and is now the bill’s sponsor after 32 years.
But why now?
“I think that the country has become more and more aware of the plight of the African-American and American society with policing, George Floyd,” Cohen said. In a 25-17 vote, all democrats voted for the bill, while all republicans voted against it.
It now goes to the House Floor where Cohen is expecting some push back.
According to USA Today, Republican Congressman from Ohio and Judiciary Committee Member Steve Chabot said, “Paying reparations would amount to taking money from people who never owned slaves to compensate those who were never enslaved.”
One economist estimates the cost of reparations could be as much as $12 trillion.
Cohen said the bill goes to the calendar committee next.
WMC Action News 5 reached out to U.S. Representatives from the Mid-South as the bill will soon head to the House floor.
Rep. Bennie Thompson released the following statement, “I support the bill, and I look forward to voting for it when it’s presented on the floor in the House of Representatives.”
We will update this story as we hear back from additional Representatives.