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story.lead_photo.caption Actor Danny Glover, right, and author Ta-Nehisi Coates, left, testify about reparation for the descendants of slaves during a hearing before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, June 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

WASHINGTON -- Lawmakers on Wednesday held the first congressional hearing in more than a decade on reparations, spotlighting the debate over whether the United States should consider compensation for the descendants of slaves in the United States.

Witnesses included actor and activist Danny Glover, who told a House Judiciary panel that his great-grandfather was enslaved. He called a national reparations policy "a moral, democratic and economic imperative."

It was Congress' first hearing in a decade on the topic and comes amid a growing discussion in the Democratic Party on reparations and sets up a potential standoff with Republicans. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell opposes the idea.

"This hearing is yet another important step in the long and historic struggle of African Americans to secure reparations for the damage that has been inflicted by slavery and Jim Crow," Glover told the panel.

Writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, who drew new attention to the issue with his 2014 essay, "The Case for Reparations," told the panel "it's impossible to imagine America without the inheritance of slavery."

Sen. Cory Booker , D-N.J., a presidential contender, testified that the U.S has "yet to truly acknowledge and grapple with the racism and white supremacy that tainted this country's founding and continues to cause persistent and deep racial disparities and inequality."

But another writer, Coleman Hughes, who at times testified over boos from the audience, said black people don't need "another apology," but safer neighborhoods, better schools, a less punitive criminal justice system and better health care.

"None of these things can be achieved through reparations for slavery," said Hughes, who says he is the descendant of blacks enslaved at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello.

The legislation, which would set up a bipartisan commission to study the issue, spotlights a national conversation over the legacy of slavery. Several of the Democratic Party's presidential candidates have endorsed looking at the idea, though they have stopped short of endorsing direct payouts for blacks.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer on Wednesday called reparations a "serious issue" and said he expects the resolution will see a vote in the House.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, who became the sponsor of a measure to study reparations after the retirement of Democratic Rep. John Conyers, said to the packed hearing room, "I just simply ask: Why not and why not now?"

But McConnell opposes reparations, telling reporters Tuesday that he doesn't want reparations for "something that happened 150 years ago."

"We've tried to deal with the original sin of slavery by passing civil-rights legislation," McConnell said, and electing a black president, Barack Obama.

"It would be hard to figure out who to compensate" for slavery, the Kentucky Republican said, and added: "No one currently alive was responsible for that."

Top Democrats pushed back Wednesday on McConnell's comments, with one calling his remarks "sad."

Rep. Kathleen Clark, D-Mass., a member of the leadership team, said the country's history of slavery is a "stigma and a stain" that continues to be felt today. That McConnell wants to "write that off," she said, is ignoring the impact and legacy of the country's history.

"We cannot look to him for any sort of moral authority or guidance on how we should be addressing the issues of slavery and the impact today on income inequality, curtailing opportunity and civil rights and voting rights," she said.

Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana, the top Republican on the panel, said he respects the beliefs of those who support reparations. He called America's history with slavery "regrettable and shameful."

But he said paying monetary reparations for the "sins of a small subset of Americans from many generations ago" would be unfair, difficult to carry out in practice and, in his view, likely unconstitutional.

Republicans invited Hughes and also Burgess Owens, a former Oakland Raiders football player and Super Bowl champion, who recently wrote a Wall Street Journal editorial eschewing reparations.

The debate over reparations for black Americans began not long after the end of the Civil War.

A resolution to study reparations was first proposed in 1989 by Conyers of Michigan, who put it forward year after year.

The hearing Wednesday coincided with Juneteenth, a cultural holiday commemorating the emancipation of enslaved black people in the United States.

A Section on 06/20/2019

Print Headline: Slavery reparations divides panelists


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Archived Comments

  • arkateacher54
    June 20, 2019 at 5:31 a.m.

    Most ridiculous idea to come down the pike in a long time. If the money comes from taxes (of course it will) then black taxpayers will be paying them too. Who exactly would receive the money? How black do you have to be? 1/16? 1/32? 1/64? How do you prove your ancesters were slaves? Mostly impossible. What about blacks who immigrated here after slavery ended? What about descendants of black slave owners (there were a few)? Would they get reparations or not? What about Native Americans? Their culture was essentially destroyed while black culture has been allowed to flourish. Who would be next? Chinese? Catholics? Irish? An idea whose time will never come.

  • abb
    June 20, 2019 at 6:57 a.m.

    Washed up commies asking for handouts....kind of like most Democrats running in 2020. SMH. And, sorry, I'll expatriate before I send 1 cent for any reparations. 600,000 dead Americans is your payment for freedom in the 19th century. Reparations has been paid in full, and then some.

  • PopMom
    June 20, 2019 at 7:06 a.m.

    For once, I agree with Arkateacher. There is no fair way to correct the injustices of the past. What we can do is what Coleman Hughes suggested: provide better services to the poor who are disproportionately black. It doesn't matter if you are a poor white who lives in West Virginia or Kentucky or a poor black who lives in the Delta or the inner city or a Native American who lives out west; if you are poor, you could use quality education to help lift you out of poverty. Of course, people also need quality healthcare. The best way to correct the injustices of the past are to make the present a better place. People also need to stop blaming all of their problems on other people. Many blacks are successful now through hard work. There are many social programs in place to help poor people. Blacks have disproportionately large problem with absenteeism at schools, and yet, some black activists cry about the education lag as if it is all due to racism. It is not. Leftists such as Cory Booker are doing blacks a disservice by blaming white people for everything. He also is hurting the Democratic Party with his divisiveness.

  • Illinoisroy
    June 20, 2019 at 7:40 a.m.

    Reparations is a deal breaker for civil rights movement, too divisive. While I am vehemently opposed to human rights violation, to include slavery, we can't retroactively correct all wrongs. Let's move on by ensuring equal protection and opportunities for all.

  • Skeptic1
    June 20, 2019 at 9:01 a.m.

    This is truly a new low for the Democrats. They know this gross pandering will never be passed, it's all about trying to get the black vote they are losing. The Democrats need a permanent underclass to survive and will never acknowledge that minorities are not perpetual victims, they have the American dream at their feet and they have seized it. If any group of people in this country deserve reparations it's Native Americans, why are they excluded and ignored?

  • Foghorn
    June 20, 2019 at 11:12 a.m.

    Coleman Hughes nailed it. I also agree with 4 of the 5 commenters so far. It is tempting, however, to support reparations just to get abb to repatriate. Assuming any other country would accept her is a stretch.

  • UoABarefootPhdFICYMCA
    June 20, 2019 at 11:12 a.m.

    Reparations were already DEDUCTED from SOUTHERN WHITES.
    Dont ACT stupid.

  • UoABarefootPhdFICYMCA
    June 20, 2019 at 11:13 a.m.

    Native Americans owned the most slaved and rebelled against the USC/USA to keep them?
    why do i have to keep repeating this skeptic is it because you are a racist sexist drone too?

  • Testingonetwothree
    June 20, 2019 at 12:50 p.m.

    if they can find any shaves still alive pay them.

  • ArkCurmudgeon
    June 20, 2019 at 3:16 p.m.

    Reparations were paid 150 years ago in blood during the U. S. Civil War. How dare anyone ask for money.