By Nick Rascona
Get ready to call your local representative!
You probably know the term “40 acres and a mule”…well, let’s talk about that.
In the House of Representatives there is a bill called HR 40. Black-led organizations have been leading this work for decades, and it’s past time to support their important work.
This article will cover the reasons why African Americans need reparations, what reparations are and what we can do to organize an effort to push our government to pass the HR 40 bill.
Why are reparations necessary?
If a person could even attempt to conceptualize an answer to the question: “Why do we need reparations for the Black community?”—the nutshell would be this statement from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU):
“During slavery, Black people were forced to labor for the enrichment of America. After slavery, the emancipated suffered violent repression and exploitation under Jim Crow laws and black codes in the South and de facto segregation across the nation. H.R. 40 is crucial, as it would establish a commission to examine the institution of slavery, its legacy, and make recommendations to Congress for reparations, beginning a process of repairing and restoring after centuries of enslavement.” The key term here is the “legacy” of slavery.
Black people were promised 40 acres and a mule after Emancipation but, that was never given. Instead, they were given worse atrocities and more of the same. There was never an amendment to the Emancipation Proclamation nullifying the terms of reparations. They just were flat out not paid to emancipated slaves. But, reparations WERE paid to slave owners: $300 per slave. That’s right. The part for reparations in the Emancipation Proclamation that was upheld, was to the plantation owners for “losing property”.
It was not until June 19th 1865, otherwise known as Juneteenth, that all of the slaves in the USA receive emancipation.
Then, came Jim Crow Laws after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued. These laws enforced racial segregation in the South between the end of the Reconstruction Act in 1877 and the beginning of the civil rights movement in the 1950s.
Where did the idea of reparations come from?
Forty acres and a mule is part of Special Field Orders No. 15, by Union General William Tecumseh Sherman on January 16, 1865, during the Civil War, to allot land to some freed families, in the amount of 40 acres. The army was ordered to lend mules for the effort. The field orders followed a number of conversations between Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton and abolitionists Charles Sumner and Thaddeus Stevens. Various political figures provided lip service to newly freed people, that they had a right to own the land they had been forced to work as slaves. Freed people expected to legally claim 40 acres of land and a mule after the end of the war. However, Abraham Lincoln‘s successor as president, Andrew Johnson, explicitly reversed and annulled proclamations such as Special Field Orders No. 15 and the Freedmen’s Bureau bills.
H.R. 40 follows the path and success of the reparations commission that decided $1.6 billion should be distributed to the ancestors of Japanese Americans who were wrongly imprisoned in concentration camps during WWII.
40 acres and a mule would cost $6.4 trillion today, roughly $240k across the entire USA.
So, what’s the HR 40 bill?
H.R. 40 is named after “40 acres and a mule”. It was first introduced in Congress in 1989. 30 years later, in 2019 U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee reintroduced it as the “Commission to Study and Develop reparations Proposals for African Americans Act”. In the 30 years H.R. 40 has been in Congress, substantially more than enough evidence has been presented to warrant a commission.
What would HR 40 actually do?
This bill will establish a 13-member commission to examine the effects of slavery and racial discrimination in the United States and recommend appropriate measures and remedies to congress.
The commission will identify (among other things required):
- The role of the federal and state governments in supporting and perpetuating the institution of slavery.
- Multiple systems and forms of discrimination in the public and private sectors against freed slaves and their descendants.
- Lingering negative effects of slavery on living African Americans and society to this day.
How can we help get the HR 40 bill passed?
Click here to call or write Congress about the H.R. 40 bill.
When you click on the link above, all you’ll need to do is provide your zip code and it will find which representative in your district to contact about the bill.
We need EVERYONE no matter race, religion, or creed to contact your representative and demand HR 40 is passed.
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Featured image credit: Washington Post / Jim Mone/AP