The topic of reparations for slavery is headed to Capitol Hill for its first hearing in more than a decade, with writer Ta-Nehisi Coates and actor Danny Glover set to testify before a House panel next Wednesday. The hearing's stated purpose: "to examine, through open and constructive discourse, the legacy of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, its continuing impact on the community, and the path to restorative justice." The June 19 date of the hearing before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties coincides with Juneteenth, a cultural holiday commemorating the emancipation of enslaved blacks in America, per the AP. Ex-Democratic Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, the longtime sponsor of House Resolution 40, first proposed the measure calling for a study of reparations in 1989. Conyers reintroduced the bill every session until his resignation in 2017.
Texas Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, the resolution's new sponsor, introduced it earlier this year and pushed for the hearing. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in February she supports a reparations study, a topic that hasn't been the subject of a House hearing since 2007. Reparations had been a fringe issue until Coates' 2014 essay in the Atlantic, "The Case for Reparations," thrust the topic back into the national discourse. Lethal Weapon star Glover has spoken in favor of the issue for years. The reparations debate became part of the 2020 presidential race early, as several Democratic primary candidates signaled their support for compensating slaves' descendants, though not in a traditional sense of direct payouts to black Americans. Most have been vague on specifics, offering policies addressing economic inequality that could disproportionately benefit blacks. (Read more reparations stories.)