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Introduction Statement; H.R.40 The Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. CONYERS. Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to re-introduce H.R. 40, the Commission to Study Reparations Proposals for African-Americans Act. Since I first introduced H.R. 40 in 1989, we have made substantial progress in elevating this issue in the national consciousness. Through legislation, state and local resolutions and litigation, we are moving closer to a full dialogue on the role of slavery in building this country.

In the 110th Congress, the House passed a slavery apology bill on July 29, 2008, in which the House issued a formal apology for slavery. The Senate followed on July 18, 2009, with the passage of S. Con. Res. 26 which was sponsored by Tom Harkin of Iowa. In recognition of the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade on January 1, 1808, both the House and Senate passed legislation creating a commemoration commission, which was signed into law on February 5, 2008. I believe that such Federal efforts are significant steps toward proper acknowledgment and understanding of slavery and its implications, but our responsibilities on this matter are even greater.

The establishment of a commission to study the institution of slavery in the United States, as well as its consequences that reach into modern day society, is our responsibility. This concept of a commission to address historical wrongs is not unprecedented. In fact, in recent Congresses, commission bills have been put forward.

In 1983, a Presidential Commission determined that the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II was racist and inhumane, and as a result, the 1988 Civil Liberties Act provided redress for those injured by the internment. However, the internment of Japanese Latin Americans in the United States during World War II was not examined by the Commission, resulting in legislation calling for a commission to examine this oversight. Legislation establishing a commission to review the injustices suffered by European Americans, European Latin Americans, and Jewish refugees during World War II has also been proposed.

H.R. 40 is no different than these other commission bills. H.R. 40 establishes a commission to examine the institution of slavery and its legacy, like racial disparities in education, housing, and healthcare. Following this examination, the commission would recommend appropriate remedies to Congress. As I have indicated before, remedies do not equate to monetary compensation.

In the 110th Congress, I convened the first Congressional hearing on H.R. 40. With witnesses that included Professor Charles Ogletree, Episcopal Bishop M. Thomas Shaw, and Detroit City Councilwoman JoAnn Watson, we began a formal dialogue on the legacy of the transatlantic slave trade. This Congress, I look forward to continuing this conversation so that our nation can better understand this part of our history.

Attempts to eradicate today's racial discrimination and disparities will be successful when we understand the past's racial injustices and inequities. A commission can take us into this dark past and bring us into a brighter future. As in years past, I welcome open and constructive discourse on H.R. 40 and the creation of this commission in the 113th Congress.

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