Juneteenth is an annual holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. For many years, Detroit Congressman John Conyers used the occasion to introduce a proposal for reparations for slavery.
Democratic Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence, who represents Michigan's 14th congressional district, is carrying on that tradition.
She is co-sponsoring a bill that would create a commission "to study and consider a national apology and proposal for reparations for the institution of slavery." The bill was discussed at a congressional hearing Wednesday.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) commented this week that he opposes reparations, saying “none of us currently living” are responsible for slavery. Lawrence disagrees with McConnell. She says reparations are about confronting the "brutal mistreatment of African-Americans during slavery, Jim Crow, and during the Civil Rights movement" as well as enduring structural racism that impacts African-Americans today.
“It's unfortunate when you're a leader in the United States of America, a country so rich in diversity, a country that has multitude of voices and a democracy, that you choose to keep blinders on," Lawrence said.
The Democratic congresswoman says that the effects of slavery and racism have tangible effects on African-Americans in today's society.
“We’re still living with a disproportionate amount of African Americans in prison. We’re still dealing with communities that are underfunded and having all kinds of challenges,” Lawrence said.
She says her new reparations proposal would create a platform for lawmakers to “sit down collectively” and find ways to recognize and make amends for the wrongs of the past. Lawrence cites the reparations paid to some Native Americans, as well as to Japanese Americans interned during World War II, as proof that the country could move forward on reparations for slavery, too.