CHICAGO (CMC) – A prominent United States lawmaker says he will re-introduce legislation in the US Congress to study reparations for African Americans as Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries push ahead with plans for reparation from Europe.
“It is the most important piece of legislation I have ever introduced, and I will re-introduce HR40 in the 113th Congress,” John Conyers, a Democrat, told an audience at the ‘Revitalizing The Reparations Movement’ conference at Chicago State University.
The event, organized by the New York-based Institute of the Black World 21st Century (IBW) in collaboration with the US Center for Inner City Studies and the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference.
Conyers, who is also dean of the Congressional Black Caucus, said the actions of CARICOM countries in demanding reparations from Europe over slavery will revitalize the movement in the United States.
“I think it is going to be a springboard for reparations,” he said as CARICOM countries say they were prepared to go as far as the Hague-headquartered World Court on the issue.
To date, Sweden is the only country that has indicated willingness to negotiate reparations.
Conyers first introduced the measure, titled “Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act,” in 1989 during the 101th Congress. The bill was referred to the House Judiciary Committee, where he is the ranking member.
The eight-page legislation, which was co-introduced by US Congressman Bobby Scott, said four million Africans and their descendants were enslaved in the United States and colonies that became the United States from 1619 to 1865.
The bill claimed that the US government sanctioned slavery from 1789 through 1865, enabling it to flourish.
Conyers said he wants to hold hearings in Washington about reparations for African Americans, adding: “If the Republican Congress blocks the hearings, I will hold them throughout the country.”
Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, Principal and Pro-Vice Chancellor of The University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, Barbados, told the conference that the British government paid the slaveholders 40 per cent of the empire’s national expenditures, which was 20 million British pounds and now estimated at US$200 billion.
Sir Hilary, a professor of economic history and author of “Britain’s Black Debt: Reparations for Caribbean Slavery and Native Genocide,” delivered the keynote address in the absence of St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, the CARICOM Chairman, who was unable to attend the event.
Sir Hilary gave his audience a history lesson about slavery in the Caribbean that observers say would never be taught in US classrooms or appear on movie screens.
He said British slave ships transported 3.3 million Africans to the plantations in the New World, where slaves were worked to death as a form of genocide.
St Vincent and the Grenadines’ Ambassador to the United Nations, I. Rhonda King, who also addressed the conference, noted Gonsalves’ insistence that “we must continue to advocate for reparations in all international fora that it must be a centerpiece of our region’s foreign and domestic policies”.