Actor Danny Glover and Sen. Cory Booker were among a group of witnesses who testified on Capitol Hill Wednesday in support of a bill that would arrange a commission to help develop a proposal for slavery reparations.
The two, alongside writer Ta-Nehisi Coates and others, spoke before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties on what happened to be Juneteenth, a celebratory holiday that marks the day enslaved African Americans in Texas belatedly learned in 1865 that the Civil War had ended and they were free — more than two years after the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation.
The three-hours-plus hearing centered H.R. 40, a bill looking not to allocate money for reparations, but to build a 13-member commission to “study and consider a national apology and proposal for reparations for the institution of slavery.”
Booker, a New Jersey Democrat who is currently running to be the party’s candidate in the 2020 election, called the hearing “important,” “historic,” and “urgent” in his testimony, arguing that African-Americans have been economically disadvantaged for generations because of policies that purposely exclude them and lead to racial wealth gaps and discrepancies in healthcare and the criminal justice system.
“It is a cancer on the soul of our country,” Booker, 50, said. “This bill is the beginning of an important process … to find practical ideas to address the enduring injustices in our nation.”
Coates, 43, delivered passionate testimony about the long-lasting effects of slavery and its legacy, which includes economic, social and political structural oppression. It was Coates’ 2014 article “The Case for Reparations” that not only rekindled the reparations debate, but cemented the topic as important and worthy of consideration. In the article, Coates noted that government-implemented policies (such as redlining, poll taxes and more) worked to further oppress and disadvantage Black Americans.
The piece served as a catalyst for Wednesday’s hearing.
“We recognize our lineage as a generational trust, as inheritance, and the real dilemma posed by reparations is just that: a dilemma of inheritance,” Coates said. “It is impossible to imagine America without the inheritance of slavery.”
Glover, meanwhile, recalled his family history, explaining he was the great-grandson of a former slave who was freed by the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.
"Enslavement reigned for 250 years on these shores. When it ended, this country could've extended its hallowed principles — life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — to all, regardless of color," writer Ta-Nehisi Coates told Congress. "But America had other principles in mind" pic.twitter.com/a1RYYhbSnq
— PBS NewsHour (@NewsHour) June 19, 2019
The Lethal Weapon star, who briefly worked in city administration before becoming an actor and has long advocated for various causes, also referenced his maternal grandparents, who spent their lives working as tenant farmers and sharecroppers in rural Georgia until they could afford a farm for themselves.
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“Despite much progress over the centuries, this hearing is another important step in the long and heroic struggle of African-Americans to secure reparations for the damages inflicted by the enslavement and post-emancipation and racial exclusionary policies,” Glover, 72, said.
CNN reported that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, 77, said ahead of the hearing that he is opposed to reparations.
“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,” the Kentucky Republican told reporters.
Booker, meanwhile, reportedly said Wednesday McConnell’s argument contains a “tremendous amount of ignorance.”