A bill that seeks to lay groundwork to pay the descendants of slaves through reparations will be discussed during a House Judiciary Committee meeting Wednesday. Georgian and College Football Hall of Famer Herschel Walker spoke against that bill during a Wednesday hearing, noting that “atonement” will not help Black people.
Walker, an ardent Republican, is one of a handful of dignitaries speaking during the hearing with the subpanel considering H.R. 40, a piece of legislation pushing to create a reparations committee.
Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com
Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com
From Walker’s perspective, racism is “better today than yesterday,” and creating a commission to consider reparations, which has been spoken about “many times,” is a moot point in 2021.
“My religion teaches togetherness. Reparations teaches separation,” he said in his testimony. “Slavery ended over 130 years ago. How can a father ask his son to do prison time for a crime he committed?”
Walker said white people living now should not have to atone for the actions of their ancestors. He also questioned how blackness would be measured if such a bill were passed and the economics of such a repayment of millions of slave descendants.
See the video of the ongoing conversation and testimony on the bill here.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, who wrote the bill, has attempted to get the bill through Congress without success in the past. The commission’s mission would be identifying the role of federal and state governments in supporting the institution of slavery, forms of discrimination in public and private sectors against freed slaves and their descendants, and lingering adverse effects of slavery on living African Americans and society.
“I think if people begin to associate this legislation with what happened to the descendants of enslaved Africans as a human rights violation, the sordid past that violated the human rights of all of us who are descendants of enslaved Africans, I think that we can find common ground to pass this legislation,” Jackson Lee told Black Press of America.
Walker was joined by Hilary O. Shelton, head of the NAACP’s Washington, D.C., California Secretary of State Shirley Weber and several others in discussing the bill, which has 162 co-sponsors, on Wednesday.
Walker, 58, has been interviewed about reparations in the past. In October, Walker told Fox News that he felt the increasing discussions about paying Black people for their centuries of disenfranchisement that was seeded by slavery was a plot to pander “for a vote.”
“I’m upset about it because all they’re doing is pandering for a vote,” Walker told host Martha MacCallum. “Why are you paying African Americans off instead of empowering African Americans?”
Walker suggested at the time that African Americans be offered jobs and tools for growth to acquire prosperity and empowerment.
Calls for reparations increased in the summer of 2020 after anti-racism protests erupted across the U.S. in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death. Floyd, a Black man who died as a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck, became a seminal figure in demanding social and racial justice and equality. The issue became so prominent that then-presidential candidate Joe Biden voiced his support for the creation of a commission.
The concept of reparations dates to the end of slavery when millions of freed slaves were promised 40 acres and a mule for enduring the harsh, inhumane conditions of slavery. Previous legislators have attempted to uphold that promise, and Lee and others hope establishing the bill will be the first viable step toward national reparations.
In July, dozens of organizations, including the ACLU, Amnesty International, Asian Americans Advancing Justice and the NAACP, sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other lawmakers demanding Congress move swiftly on the issue of reparations.
“HR 40 is simply a first and reasonable step. ...The bill has been introduced for 30 years — yet for 30 years, it has languished. If the protests have demonstrated anything, it is that action cannot wait.”
Some see the latest reintroduction of the bill, which was first introduced by the late Rep. John Conyers in the late 1980s, as a means to get the White House supports in moving the legislation forward. President Joe Biden supported the form of a committee while campaigning last year.
As the subpanel met, reporters asked White House press secretary Jen Psaki about where the president stood on the current consideration of the bill.
“It’s working its way through Congress,” Psaki told reporters when asked if Biden would sign the bill should it pass. “We’d certainly support a study, but we’ll see what happens through the legislative process.”
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Credit: Ben Hendren for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution