(Extensions of Remarks - January 04, 2021)

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[Extensions of Remarks]
[Page E2]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []



                        HON. SHEILA JACKSON LEE

                                of texas

                    in the house of representatives

                        Monday, January 4, 2021

  Ms. JACKSON LEE. Madam Speaker, I rise today to announce the 
reintroduction of H.R. 40, the ``Commission to Study and Develop 
Reparation proposals for African Americans Act,'' legislation which was 
cosponsored by 173 Members in the 116th Congress and today is being 
reintroduced with more than 100 original cosponsors.
  This legislation was first introduced in 1989 by the late and beloved 
Congressman John Conyers of Michigan, the former chairman of the 
Committee on the Judiciary, and is intended to examine the institution 
of slavery in the colonies and the United States from 1619 to the 
present, and, further, to recommend appropriate remedies.
  Since the initial introduction of this legislation, proponents have 
made substantial progress in elevating the discussion of reparatory 
justice at the national level and joining the mainstream international 
debate on the issues.
  Though some have tried to deflect the importance of these 
conversations by focusing on individual monetary compensation, the real 
issue is whether and how this nation can come to grips with the legacy 
of slavery that still infects current society.
  Through legislation, resolutions, news, and litigation, we are moving 
closer to making more strides in the movement toward reparatory relief.
  Today, there are more people at the table--more activists, more 
scholars, more CEOs, more state and local officials, and more Members 
of Congress.
  However, despite this progress and the election of the first American 
President of African descent, the legacy of slavery lingers heavily in 
this nation.
  While we have focused on the social effects of slavery and 
segregation, its continuing economic inequalities and disparities 
remain largely ignored by mainstream analysis.
  These economic issues are the root cause of many critical issues in 
the African American community today, such as education, healthcare and 
criminal justice policy, including policing practices.
  The call for reparatory justice represents a commitment to entering a 
constructive dialogue on the role of slavery and racism in shaping 
present-day conditions in our community and American society.
   H.R. 40 is important and needed legislation because it goes beyond 
exploring the economic implications of slavery and segregation.
  It is a holistic bill in the sense that establishes a commission to 
examine the moral and social implications of slavery.
  Madam Speaker, the United States is the world's only superpower and 
boasts the largest economy in the history of the world and for many 
years was the world's indispensable nation and the example that all 
aspiring democracies wished to emulate.
  At the same time, this nation has also been home to many searing 
instances of social unrest resulting from racial injustices, as we are 
now witnessing on the streets of big cities and small towns in urban 
and rural communities.
  We are seeing Americans, by the millions, across the country, coming 
from all races and ages, engaging in what the late John Lewis called 
``good trouble'' by protesting and demanding an end to the systemic 
racial inequality in our criminal justice system that too often 
victimizes and disproportionately treats black Americans worse, ceteris 
paribus, when it comes to suspicion, apprehension, arrest, detention, 
trial, sentencing, and incarceration.
  While the brutal deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna 
Taylor in Louisville shocked the conscience of the nation, most black 
Americans will tell you what they experienced is not new, but has been 
occurring for generations, if not centuries.
  What is critically important to understand is that the instances of 
brutal and unfair treatment the nation has witnessed this year cannot 
be attributed to the proverbial few ``bad apples in the bushel'' but is 
instead the foreseeable consequence of systemic racism and racial 
inequality in the system.
  Not just the criminal justice system, but the health care system, the 
economic system, and the educational system to name the most glaring 
  To find our way out of this dark time, we need to understand how it 
came to be.
  That is the purpose of H.R. 40, which establishes a commission to 
examine slavery and discrimination in the colonies and the United 
States from 1619 to the present and recommend appropriate remedies.
  Among other requirements, the commission shall identify (1) the role 
of federal and state governments in supporting the institution of 
slavery; (2) forms of discrimination in the public and private sectors 
against freed slaves and their descendants; and (3) lingering negative 
effects of slavery on living African-Americans and society.
  Truth and reconciliation about the Original Sin of American Slavery 
is necessary to light the way to the beloved community we all seek.
  The uncomfortable truth is that the United States owes its position 
as the most powerful nation in the world to its slave-owning past.
  Initially, slavery in America was not instituted for black people.
  The colonists in the southern states simply wanted persons to 
cultivate and hue the soil of the New World's wild untamed lands.
  And they wanted to exploit these boundless natural resources as 
cheaply as possible.
  At first, they tried to enslave the indigenous persons they found 
when they arrived from Old World but that did not work because the 
native persons they encountered were nomadic rather than agrarian.
  So next, landowners turned to poor persons from Europe arriving to 
work as indentured servants, but this did not work either for several 
  First, such persons were not as hardy in working under the difficult 
conditions that existed.
  Also, because as subjects of the British Crown, indentured workers 
enjoyed legal rights and protections.
  Finally, being white themselves, European indentured servants could 
escape and blend into the general colonial population.
  That is why the landowners set their sights on the western coast of 
Africa and its people.
  That experiment in trafficking in persons failed as well and 
culminated in a bloody Civil War, but not before America profited 
handsomely from what President Lincoln rightly characterized in his 
Second Inaugural as ``the bondsmen's two-hundred and fifty years of 
unrequited toil.''
  Slavery helped make America an industrial nation but at the cost of 
inflicting physical, economic, social, psychological, and political 
damage on Black Americans that despite the progress that has been made 
continues to this day with stark racial disparities in health care, 
employment, housing, food, education, and indeed nearly every aspect of 
American life and death.
  Madam Speaker, official slavery ended with the Civil War and 
ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment.
  But unofficial slavery was continued with the new institution of 
sharecrop farming, a criminal justice system that would press convicts 
into work once done by slaves, and labor policies that dictated income 
for work done based upon skin color.
  And, of course, all of this was reinforced by the systematic 
disenfranchisement of Black Americans, the ``discrete and insular 
minority'' excluded from ``those political processes ordinarily to be 
relied upon to protect'' them, to quote Chief Justice Hughes' famous 
Carolene Products Footnote 4.
  For these reasons, the history of the United States is intertwined 
with the history of enslaved Africans in the Americas.
  Madam Speaker, there is blood and there are tears, but there is also 
redemption and reconciliation.
  But to get there, we must know the complete truth and lay our history 
  The Commission created and empowered by H.R. 40 is a necessary first 
step in that effort.
  I encourage all Members to join me in cosponsoring H.R. 40, the 
``Commission to Study and Develop Reparation proposals for African 
Americans Act.''