On Wednesday morning, political leaders, activists, and public figures met at Capitol Hill to discuss reparations for descendants of slaves, for the first time in a decade.
According to CBS, Actor Danny Glover, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Cory Booker and author Ta-Nehisi Coates were among those who testified at the congressional hearing in support of H.R 40, “a bill that would study how the U.S. would implement reparations to black Americans.”
The panel took place on “Juneteenth,” a holiday used to commemorate the general freedom of slaves and more specifically the emancipation of Texas slaves on June 19, 1865. Witnesses used the panel to debate a range of topics associated with slavery and to present ideas for the government to consider.
During his testimony, Glover expressed the significance of the hearing for African Americans and called for change.
“Despite much progress over the centuries, this hearing is yet another important step in the long and heroic struggle of African Americans to secure reparations for the damages inflicted by enslavement and post-emancipation exclusionary policies,” Glover said. “White America must recognize that justice for black people can not be achieved without radical change to the structure of our society,” he continued.
Sen. Cory Booker, who has introduced the Senate version of the bill, called the panel “historic” and argued that compensation should not only cover slavery but cover a legacy of institutional injustices such as segregation after the Civil War.
“We as a nation must address these persistent inequalities,” Booker said. “It’s about time we find common ground and common purpose to deal with this ugly history.”
The hearing occurred just one day after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he doesn’t believe reparations are a “good idea.”
“I don’t think that reparations for something that happened 150 years ago, for whom none of us currently living are responsible, is a good idea,” he said. “We tried to deal with our original sin of slavery by fighting a Civil War, by passing landmark civil rights legislation. We elected an African American president,” McConnell added.
The idea of compensation for African Americans gained traction in 2014 after Coates released “The Case of Reparations.” The author was featured as an expert on the issue and used the platform to condemn McConnell’s comments during the second panel, CBS reported.
“Majority Leader McConnell cited civil-rights legislation yesterday, as well he should, because he was alive to witness the harassment, jailing, and betrayal of those responsible for that legislation by a government sworn to protect them. He was alive for the redlining of Chicago and the looting of black homeowners of some $4 billion,” Coates said. “Victims of that plunder are very much alive today. I am sure they’d love a word with the majority leader.”