U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) in Evanston Friday for a national reparations symposium, demanded that President Joe Biden put H.R. 40 in place via executive order, to set up the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans after a 38-year Congressional stalemate.

U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee demands President Joe Biden pass H.R. 40 through executive order. Credit: Gina Castro

The Congresswoman made her case for federal reparations as local and state leaders from across the country stood in solidarity behind her during a news conference at the Hilton Orrington Evanston.

“H.R. 40, is 38 years on the books waiting for someone to say ‘yes,'” Jackson Lee said. “Today, we ask with no apologies for an executive order to be in place… An executive order now, we are Americans, too.

“I want for once an acceptance of the history, of the journey that African Americans have taken – to be an accepted reality in America,” Jackson Lee said. “Not out of anger, but out of how do we come together to resolute what happened.”

History of H.R. 40

H.R. 40, now has nearly 200 co-sponsors, and was introduced in 1989 by the late U.S. Rep. John J. Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), who died in 2019. The bill if enacted would create a commission to identify the harm the African American community endured between 1619 to the present and determine steps for repairing the harm.

Biden has previously expressed support for the bill, said U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) who also spoke at the news conference.

In 2021, the House Judiciary Committee voted in favor of the bill, progressing it to the House floor. Millions of Americans support H.R. 40, Jackson Lee said. Still, she said an executive order is necessary.

Jackson Lee outlined numerous grievances and brutalities African Americans endured as the only group that spent more than 200 years as slaves in the U.S., she said. “We built the nation.”

African Americans were never compensated for their labor or for fueling the global cotton economy, Jackson Lee explained. Yet they have served in every war since the Revolutionary War only to be denied veteran benefits, she said. These examples were only several of the harms Jackson Lee mentioned in her speech.

The legacy of slavery continues to haunt the Black community, Schakowsky said. The gap in life expectancy between Black and white Chicagoans is the largest of any in the United States of America, she said.

“This didn’t happen just yesterday, or last year, or a decade ago,” Schakowsky said. “This is one small example of the legacy of slavery, the lack of equity in health care, housing, in benefits and achievement that we’ve made in this country.”

Local leaders speak up

Evanston Mayor Daniel Biss was among local leaders supporting the demand for an executive order.

“As important and meaningful and powerful as local government can be, this conversation cannot end on a local level,” Biss said.

“We cannot do what needs to get done with local initiatives alone, or frankly, with local dollars. That’s not going to get it done. So we’re here today to call on our federal government, to call on our Congress to pass H.R. 40, to call on our president to approve those actions because that is the way that we will achieve the level of repair that is needed.”

Evanston is considered a leader in the local reparations movement, which was moved forward by former City Council Member Robin Rue Simmons. Rue Simmons is founder and executive director of FirstRepair, a not-for-profit organization that informs local reparations and was one of the organizers the national symposium. She spoke at the news conference as did reparations leaders from other states who also urged the president to take action on H.R. 40.

“The reason why we need a movement like H.R. 40 is because we have to address this false narrative,” said Sheryl Davis, director of San Francisco’s Human Rights Commission. “We have to stop believing that some states are more progressive or that they have done better by Black folks than other states. The truth of the matter is from segregation to anti-literacy laws to slavery, Black folks have been over and over again, marginalized,” Davis said.

“President Biden, numbers do not lie,” Kamm Howard said. “You said you would have our back. The way to have our back is H.R. 40 through Executive Order now.” Credit: Gina Castro

A Congressional Black Caucus poll found that reparations is a top issue for the Black community, said Kamm Howard, co-chair of the National African American Reparations Commission and an international leader on the subject.

In Howard’s demand for H.R. 40, he reminded President Biden and the Democrat party of the power of the Black vote.

“In the last 60 years, with just one exception, it’s been the Black vote that has made the difference for every Democratic president in the U.S.,” Howard said.

“The Black vote delivered to America President Kennedy, the Black vote delivered to America President Carter, Presidents Clinton, Obama, and also to you, President Biden. None of the Presidents mentioned were able to win the majority of the white vote in this country. It was a Black vote that made the difference.”

Gina Castro

Gina Castro is a Racial Justice fellow for the RoundTable. She recently earned a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism where she studied investigative reporting....

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  1. I agree it’s time for Black America to receive reparations for their contribution to the United States. And for the egregious harm that has been done to us continually. President Biden needs to do more than an executive order because once he’s not president the executive order is void he needs to pass legislation to pay us financially for slavery. I am very disappointed in our president for giving over $37 billion dollars to Ukraine for war that we have nothing to do with. What happened to the United Nations contributing to Ukraine’s war? And yes black people have made the big difference in democratic presidents being elected. And time and time again our issues and concerns are put on the back burner I will not be voting in 2024 for another Democratic president if I cannot receive something that helps me personally such as a financial reparation. And I believe a lot of us feel that way.

  2. Im all for reparations but how is it that Native Americans are never included? Since 1492, Natives have been murdered, enslaved, beaten in boarding schools and didnt have the right to vote until 1924. Govt policy was eradication.

    1. When native Americans throw their hat in the ring, they can be included. Why must African Americans always do all the fighting for justice while other groups benefit from all their work? Native Americans should speak up and join in.