WASHINGTON — People arrived as early as 7 a.m. to stand in line for a seat inside on Capitol Hill on Wednesday. It wasn’t for a historic vote or high-profile confirmation showdown but for a hearing on HB 40 –– a bill that proposes to form a commission to study the idea of reparations. This time with celebrity front-liners Ta-Nehisi Coates and Danny Glover.
The idea of reparations isn't new; it has been around since slavery ended. Legislation regarding reparations has been around for over two decades. In every congress from 1989 until his retirement in 2017, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) introduced a bill to study the idea of reparations. He designated it as H.R. 40, a nod to the original attempt to compensate those held in slavery with 40 acres and a mule.
In January, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) took the baton and re-introduced the bill as the primary sponsor. And yet, this week was the first time in over a decade that Congress has held a hearing.
“I don't think they could ever be a moment in history where both the timing and the factors are so ripe for reconciliation and understanding and really a constructive conversation about the original sin: slavery and the brutality of slavery," said Lee.
The renewed attention to the topic of reparations and the bill itself is most likely a combination of President Donald Trump’s rhetoric on race, the 2020 presidential candidates’ response to it, and events such as the white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017.
“Why, in this time, are we now seeing this uptick in white nationalism and violence? I think America should want to have those answers,” Lee said. “They should have the answers for the young woman that died in Charlottesville. They should have the answers for the two African-Americans shot in a grocery store in the Midwest, the answers for the nine who died at Mother Emanuel in Charleston, South Carolina, the answers for those who are not of our heritage who died at the Tree of Life synagogue who died in synagogue in California who died in the mosque in New Zealand.”
This segment originally aired June 19, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.