Sen. Cory Booker told a Congressional hearing on reparations that it’s time to talk about the pervasive impact of slavery on the African American community. He’s sponsoring a companion bill to H.R. 40, which would set up a commission to study how best to heal the lingering devastation of segregation and discrimination.
“I say that I am brokenhearted and angry right now. Decades of living in a community where you see how deeply unfair this nation is still to so many people who struggle, who work hard, who do everything right, but still find themselves disproportionately with lead in their water, superfunds in their neighborhood, schools that don’t serve their genius, healthcare disparities that still affect their body and their wellbeing,” Booker said.
Slavery reparations bills have stalled in Congress for decades, and the issue remains deeply controversial. Several 2020 presidential candidates like Booker, Pete Buttigieg, and Elizabeth Warren support the concept, while Bernie Sanders opposes what he called “writing out a check.” As for Senate Republicans?
“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,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “We’ve tried to deal with our original sin of slavery by fighting a Civil War, by passing landmark civil rights legislation. We’ve elected an African American president.”
Booker called McConnell’s comments “ignorant.” Wednesday’s testimony came on Juneteenth, a holiday celebrating June 19, 1865 when slavery was finally abolished throughout the former Confederacy. The emancipation finally brought freedom to slaves at a Camden plantation and the original concept of reparations, historians say, dates back to that era.
“After the Civil War, the whole idea was, give everybody 40 acres and a mule. Had something like that been done, our history would probably be a very different one than it came to be,” said Norman Miles Sr., senior pastor of Trinity Temple Seventh Day Adventist Church in Newark. “But I think the problem that you have, whenever you deal with reparations and generations have gone by, is the way you do it is something that has to be multifaceted.”
Leaders in the African American community can’t agree on the best solution. Barack Obama opposed reparations. Others say look at the profits slavery generated.
“How others benefited because of our slavery and still are benefiting today. How could it be wrong to say something is owed? How could that be wrong? And here’s the other question I have: what did the government do to actually correct the evil?” asked Errol Stoddart, pastor of the Seventh Day Adventist Church of the Oranges.
“The climate right now of this country will not even allow for a conversation about reparations based on what is happening with the federal government and the spewing of hatred,” said Newark NAACP President Deborah Smith-Gregory. “If there are no demands made, then nothing happens.”
In today’s polarized atmosphere, reparations remain a third-rail issue, but it’s one advocates say that it’s past time to discuss.