When he addressed the Southern Christian Leadership Council in 1967, in his speech, “Where Do We Go From Here?” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. noted “ Of the good things in life, the Negro has approximately one half those of whites. of the bad things of life, he has twice those of whites. Thus half of all Negroes live in substandard housing. And Negroes have half the income of whites. When we view the negative experiences of life, the Negro has a double share. There are twice as many unemployed. The rate of infant mortality among Negroes is double that of whites and there are twice as many Negroes dying in Vietnam as whites in proportion to their size in the population.” The data have changed, but only slightly. The history of enslavement is the basis for these gaps, and so many others, including the level of incarceration among African Americans, and especially including the massive wealth gap between whites and African Americans, who have just 2 percent of our nation’s wealth. There is no question about the role enslavement plays in these gaps, and there is no question that reparations would help close gaps.
Thus, Congressman John Conyers (D-MI) has introduced HR 40, The Commission to Study Reparations Proposals for African Americans Act, every year since 1989. I am among the members of the National African American Reparations Commission, I am grateful to Congressman Conyers for his focused diligence in reintroducing this legislation each year, and concerned that the legislation has garnered so few Congressional co-sponsors. In an era when many have embraced the #Black Lives Matter movement, it is important to understand that valuing Black Lives means understanding the basis of an inequality that makes it possible for young Black men and women to be killed with impunity, and without consequence. That basis is our nation’s ugly history of indifference to Black lives, our history of a predatory capitalism that permitted enslavement and the aftermath of quasi-enslavement through Black Codes and Jim Crow laws. The antidote is, simply, reparations, or reparative justice.
On January 3, 2017, Congressman Conyers again introduced HR 40, and the legislation is different from the 1989 legislation. It is now called the Commission to Study and Develop Reparations Proposals for African Americans Act, and takes a step further in the quest for justice by authorizing the Commission not simply to study proposals, but actually to develop them. This is exciting legislation with enormous possibilities, and Congressman Conyers and his team are again to be commended for their work. It is important that members of the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and other members of Congress who believe in justice co-sponsor this legislation. In these few short weeks since Congressman Conyers introduced the new HR 40, we have experienced the gracelessness of an elected leadership that daily denies the human rights of millions. In resisting this depraved indifference to justice, it is important for people of conscience to assert its importance. HR 40 is an act of resistance. Please join Congressman Conyers in this resistance.
I am grateful to Institute of the Black World leader Dr. Ron Daniels for his leadership, and deeply regret that I cannot personally join you for today’s meeting.