Posted on March 1, 2022

Supporters Say They Have the Votes in the House to Pass a Reparations Bill After Years of Lobbying

Emmanuel Felton, Washington Post, February 25, 2022

More than three decades after it was first introduced, a House bill that would create a commission to study reparations for Black Americans has the votes to pass, its key champions say.

That broad support, they contend, shows that the idea of reparations has gone from the fringes to the mainstream of American politics.

“This has been a 30-plus year journey,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.). {snip}


While supporters are confident they have the votes to gain approval in the House, they are less optimistic about the bill’s fate in the Senate. Instead, they intend to push President Biden to sign an executive order that would create the commission.

The bill, H.R. 40, calls for a lengthy study of reparations. Supporters say they need Biden to act now so his administration can implement the commission’s recommendations before the end of his term. {snip}


This push for a federal commission comes as cities and localities across the country undertake their own efforts to account for their racist pasts. In September 2020, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed a law that created a task force to study and recommend reparations for Black Californians. In March, the panel will take a final vote on the question of who should be eligible for those reparations.

With the vote, the panel hopes to set a historic precedent for reparations eligibility for other states and the federal government. Thus far, the California effort represents the largest Black reparations project in the nation’s history, but supporters say they expect similar efforts soon in other Democratic strongholds such as New York, New Jersey and Maryland.

The federal legislation was first introduced by Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) in 1989. The “40” in H.R. 40 is a reference to an order signed in the waning days of the Civil War aimed at helping newly freed Black people survive and make a fresh start after 200 years in bondage. The government would take land that was confiscated from Confederates and redistribute it, with each Black family receiving 40 acres. However, after President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, the order was rescinded and the land was returned to White Confederates.

Conyers proposed the legislation in the wake of President Ronald Reagan signing the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which granted reparations to Japanese Americans who had been interned by the U.S. government during World War II.

Conyers went on to introduce the bill 20 times, once during every legislative session from 1989 to 2017. After Conyers resigned from Congress in 2017 in the wake of sexual harassment allegations, Jackson Lee became the bill’s primary champion. After 30 years on Capitol Hill, the bill made it out of committee for the first time last April.

It was approved by the House Judiciary Committee in a 25-to-17 vote along party lines. Earlier this month, nearly every major civil rights organization and a host of celebrities, including Mark Ruffalo and Danny Glover, signed a letter urging leaders in Congress to bring H.R. 40 to the floor for a vote.

Jackson Lee said she and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who introduced the bill in the Senate, have secured 260 sponsors and “yes” votes for the measure across both chambers of Congress, though none from any Republicans.

“This groundswell of support sends a clear message to President Biden,” said Kennis Henry of the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations. “We are ready for the opportunity to have this racial reckoning, and if not now, when?” she said.

“We have seen other groups get reparations, from the Japanese to the families of 9/11 victims. In those cases and others, our government said we must do something,” Henry said. “So why is this country unwilling to discuss reparations for people of African descent? The only difference between those who have gotten reparations and those who have not gotten compensation is the color of my skin,” she said.


A 2021 Washington Post poll found that 65 percent of Americans opposed paying cash reparations to the descendants of enslaved Black people. While 46 percent of Democrats favored the idea, 92 percent of Republicans opposed it. Two-thirds of Black respondents supported the idea, but only 18 percent of White respondents did.

However, while a majority still oppose reparations, the ranks of those who support the idea is up markedly from past surveys. A 1999 ABC News poll found that just 19 percent of Americans approved of reparations for Black Americans. Supporters of H.R. 40. said they expect support for reparations to increase with a federal commission and its public findings.