The history of U.S. agriculture is inseparable from the history of racism. For African-American communities, lack of access to land ownership—beginning with the counteraction of a policy to provide land to freed slaves after Emancipation—led to legacies of sharecropping and tenant farming that prevented these farmers from building equity in property. Despite this, many Black farmers succeeded in purchasing property, but racial violence in rural communities, as well as discriminatory lending practices and ingrained racism at USDA offices caused significant land theft and loss over the ensuing century.
This is our history, yet federal policies have largely ignored or overlooked its implications and significance. H.R. 40 would create a commission tasked with examining slavery in the United States and 13 American colonies from 1619 to the present. And the Act would require submission of a report to Congress with recommendations on a national apology and a proposal for reparations for the institution of slavery, its subsequent racial and economic discrimination against African-Americans, and the impact of these forces on living African-Americans.
H.R.40 has been introduced in every congress since 1989, and most recently by Representative Sheila Jackson Lee [D-TX-18] in the U.S. House of Representatives in January 2021.
S.40, the identical Senate companion to this bill was introduced by Senator Cory A. Booker [D-NJ] in January 2021.
In April 2021, the House Committee on the Judiciary held a markup that included H.R.40, voting to bring the bill out of committee. The next step for this legislation is to be brought to the House floor by the House Majority Leader, Steny Hoyer. Footage of the markup and supporting documents can be viewed here (beginning at 09:45:00 and ending at 11:55:00).
“Reparations are ultimately about respect and reconciliation—and the hope that one day, all Americans can walk together toward a more just future.”Representative Sheila Jackson Lee
In June 2021, California passed Bill AB-3121 modeled on H.R.40. The bill creates a nine-member task force that will draft an apology to Black Californians and recommend ways the state might make up for discriminatory policies, which could include issuing direct payments to the descendants of enslaved people or passing laws to close racial disparities.