Congressman Cohen Presides at Hearing on “H.R. 40: Exploring the Path to Reparative Justice”

February 17, 2021
Press Release
Addressing the legacy of anti-Black racism rooted in slavery and discriminatory Jim Crow laws

MEMPHIS – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), Chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties, today presided at a hearing on “H.R. 40: Exploring the Path of Reparative Justice.” The hearing explored H.R. 40, which would create a commission to study and develop a proposal for reparations for African Americans first proposed more than 30 years ago by the late Congressman John Conyers of Michigan. Congressman Cohen noted that the current measure was introduced by Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas and that he has been a cosponsor of it and previous iterations of H.R. 40 since he first came to Congress in 2007.

In his opening statement, Congressman Cohen noted that he introduced and shepherded to passage the House’s first-ever apology for slavery and Jim Crow laws in his first term in Congress. He also said:

“Today, our Nation continues to struggle with the legacy of the anti-Black racism that undergirded slavery and Jim Crow… Limited access to wealth-building resources and opportunities have led to this stark disparity.  For instance, African Americans continue to face discrimination in the workplace.  They also have limited access to educational opportunities – according to the National Education Association, the high school graduation rate for African Americans was 67 percent, compared to the nationwide average of 81 percent.  They also continue to face racial segregation in housing, and discrimination in the availability of quality health care services and in most other major facets of life.  The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the effect of these structural racial disparities.

“Enacting H.R. 40 would be an important step in finding effective long-term solutions to these problems, ones that can trace their origins to our Nation’s shameful history of slavery, segregation and anti-Black racism.”

Later, Congressman Cohen said: “We have a problem in this country and it’s time to make amends.”

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

Today’s witnesses were:

Shirley N. Weber, the California Secretary of State since December 2020 and previously a member of the California State Assembly;

E. Tendayi Achiume,  Professor of Law at the University of California, Los Angeles and the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance;

Kathy Masaoka, Co-Chair of Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress; 

Herschel Walker, a former professional football and college football player for the University of Georgia and the winner of the 1982 Heisman Trophy;

Kamm Howard, Male Co-Chair of the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America, or “N’COBRA”; 

Laurence Elder, conservative attorney, author, and host of the nationally syndicated radio program “The Larry Elder Show.” 

Dreisen Heath, Assistant Researcher and Advocate with the U.S. Program of Human Rights Watch; and

Hilary O. Shelton, Director of the NAACP’s Washington Bureau and Senior Vice President for Advocacy and Policy.