Congressman Steve Cohen

Representing the 9th District of Tennessee

Congressman Cohen Chairs Historic Hearing on Reparations for Slavery and Jim Crow

June 19, 2019
Press Release
Supports creation of a commission to recommend remedies to the nation’s “original sin”

WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), the Chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, today presided over a hearing on “H.R. 40 and the Path to Restorative Justice.” 


 In his opening statement, Chairman Cohen said: 


 “An honest reckoning with the federal government’s role in protecting the institution of slavery has been a leading priority of my Congressional career. In 2007, less than two months into my tenure as a Member of Congress, I introduced H. Res. 194, an apology by the House of Representatives for its role in perpetuating both slavery and its noxious offspring, Jim Crow. The House ultimately passed this resolution. 


“As I noted in my resolution, it is not just slavery itself that was wrong, but also the ‘visceral racism against persons of African descent upon which’ American slavery depended, a racism that went on to become ‘entrenched in the Nation’s social fabric,’ an evil that we must continue to confront today.” 


See the entire opening statement here and Congressman Cohen’s questioning of witnesses here. 


Witnesses at today’s hearing included New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, who introduced the Senate companion bill to H.R. 40. Also testifying today were journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates; Danny Glover, the actor and UNICEF ambassador; Katrina Browne, a documentarian who studied the wealth created by slavery; Coleman Hughes, a writer; Burgess Owens, a writer and opponent of reparations; the Right Reverend Eugene Taylor Sutton, Episcopal Bishop of Maryland; Dr. Julianne Malveaux, a labor economist; and Law Professor Eric J. Miller of Loyola Marymount University. 


H.R. 40 would create a commission to study the history of slavery in America; the role of the federal and state governments in supporting slavery and racial discrimination; other forms of discrimination against the descendants of slaves; and the lingering effects of slavery on African Americans. The commission would also make recommendations as to appropriate ways to educate the American public about its findings and appropriate remedies in light of its findings.  


On July 2, 1997, then-state Senator Cohen wrote to President Clinton urging him to consider an apology for slavery and Jim Crow and to release it on the 30th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., on April 4, 1968.  


Congressman Cohen wrote an opinion article for the CNN website on the hearing and the need for the commission published last night. See that here.