Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) was interviewed in depth Tuesday about the HR 40 reparations bill she reintroduced to Congress in 2019. Civil Rights Advocacy group Color of Change President Rashad Robinson discussed the basics about the bill, which is a new version of the bill first introduced in 1989 by the late Rep. John Conyers, Jr.. Conyers continued to push for the bill until he retired in 2017.
Jackson Lee talked about why the time has come for reparations to be paid to Native Black American descendants of slaves.
What Jackson Lee did not address was the ADOS movement or edits to the bill that have been called for by many reparations activists.
Rep. Jackson Lee represents Texas’s 18th congressional district, which includes most of central Houston. She has served in the House since 1995 and is in her 13th term.
Color of Change is a progressive nonprofit civil rights advocacy organization formed in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina in order to use online resources to strengthen the political voice of African Americans.
Here are seven takeaways from the discussion.
1. Jackson Lee pushes the Africa connection
Draped in Kente cloth, Rep. Jackson Lee talked about the connection to Africa. “I truly believe in the connection between this nation and the continent of Africa. Obviously, this is about the descendants of enslaved Africa. That 200-plus years (when Africans were enslaved)…those slaves and their descendants never received workman’s comp, insurance, life insurance, health insurance, salaries, 401Ks, nothing. … They tried to give us 40 acres and a mule” and that didn’t work out.
2. Unable to build wealth
The promised opportunity to build wealth was taken away when the promise of 40 acres and a mule was never fulfilled. HR 40 is about fulfilling that promise, according to Jackson Lee.
In fact, the bill’s name is a reference to that promise. “Imagine if Black people had been given that land and if we merged that land with other Black people…we might have been the beginning of Microsoft, Exxon…We would have been about to pass our wealth from generation to generation.”
3. Restoring and repairing
Passage of the bill will help lead toward correcting the disparities that “fall heavily on the descendants of enslaved Africans” — in wealth, law and justice, banking, education, housing,” Jackson Lee said. HR 40 is about “restoring and repairing.”
4. Who will decide?
If the bill is pushed through and a commission is put in place to study reparations, the commission will include scholars, politicians, corporate America, community leaders, and various experts, Jackson Lee said.
5. The time is now, Jackson Lee says
While reparations should have been resolved long ago, Jackson Lee said she she feels the time is now right now in light of the racial injustice protests as well as a racially charged environment created by President Donald Trump. “Even though we have been working on HR 40 for a long time, we noticed the face of the movement was changing. You have suburban moms saying Black Lives Matter…this has to be the time” to move on reparations, she said.
6. Wealth and more
The bill will call for a restructuring of the current financial institutions that still discriminate against Black people, Jackson Lee said. We need to “get rid of racist institutions” and create fair banking. “This is what reparations are all about…Black people hold just $6 of assets for every $100 of white assets. This has to be corrected.”
She continued, “We want to deal with wealth, health…Reparations will put a red stop sign at the issue of health disparities.”
7. Jackson Lee: The U.S. has done reparations before
Jackson Lee spoke of other times the U.S. has paid reparations — to the Japanese-American victims of the World War II internment, the reparations given to the heirs of the Tuskegee experiment as well as current talks for reparations for the descendants of the Tulsa Massacre.
Descendants of slaves have never been compensated, she said. “Not one cent was ever given to those years of bondage…the wealth of this nation was grounded in cotton…We made cotton king and made the banks of Wall Street…So please be clear, we were an economic engine and we were that for over 200 years.”