Presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) has secured 12 co-sponsors for his reparations bill, according to an announcement the senator’s office released exclusively to The Root.
The bill, officially titled, “HR 40 Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act (pdf),” would establish a commission to study the impact of slavery on African Americans and suggest proposals that would help repay descendants of slaves for the costs of centuries of racial discrimination.
“We cannot address the institutional racism and white supremacy that has economically oppressed African-Americans for generations without first fully documenting the extent of the harms of slavery and its painful legacy,” Booker said in the statement. “It’s important that we right the wrongs of our nation’s most discriminatory policies, which halted the upward mobility of African-American communities. I’m encouraged to see this legislation to study the issue gain support in Congress and the shared commitment my colleagues have in doing our part to repair the harm done to African-Americans.”
The bill’s 12 co-sponsors are U.S. Sens. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.). Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Christopher Coons (D-Del.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.).
Dozens of civil rights groups have thrown their support behind the bill, including the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund; Rev. Al Sharpton and the National Action Network (NAN); TransAfrica Forum; United Church of Christ; United Methodist Church General Board of Church; and Society and the Detroit Board of Education.
Much of the legwork for Booker’s bill began in the House of Representatives with former Congressman John Conyers (D-Mich.) and then was picked up by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas). The conversation around reparations has generated much media attention over the months, as presidential candidates are vying for coveted black votes in South Carolina and other Super Tuesday states that are mostly in the South, where a majority of African-Americans live.
Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro first told The Root back in February that he supports reparations for black people, making him one of the first presidential candidates to do so. Of the 12 senators supporting Booker’s bill, five are competing with Booker for the Democratic nomination for president.
“For centuries, America’s economic rise relied on treating millions of Black people as literal property,” Sen. Sanders said in the statement. “We have still not come to terms with the horrors of legalized slavery and its continuing impacts on our society. I am proud to co-sponsor the H.R. 40 Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act to finally bring the truth about slavery into the open.”
It is unlikely that the bill will pass in the GOP-lead Senate, but it is a step forward in advancing a serious look into what reparations can look like for African Americans once Democrats control both chambers of Congress. In the interim, the House is holding a hearing next week on reparations in which the featured speakers to appear will be Ta-Nehisi Coates, author or the landmark “The Case For Reparations” essay, and Danny Glover, who has been one of the most outspoken advocates for reparations.
Rep. Lee welcomed Booker’s bill, saying that it will help push the conversation forward over how to best repay African Americans for this country’s original sin of slavery.
“Since the initial introduction of this legislation in 1989, the importance of examining the institution of slavery in the United States has been recognized across a broad range of our society,” Lee said in the statement. “I am pleased that Senator Booker has introduced a Senate Companion to H.R. 40. I salute his dedication to elevating the discussion of reparations and reparatory justice, and look forward to the dialogue that this issue engenders on and off Capitol Hill.”