Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) defended legislation proposals about slave reparations to descendants of slaves as he helped kick-off a two-month lecture series titled “Season of Injustice” Friday.
The series, sponsored by the Center for Afro-American Studies, is a comparison of racial injustices in South Africa and the United States, most notably the transitions to equality.
Assistant anthropology Prof. Daniel Rothenberg said that while both countries have had different racial situations regarding racial injustice, “It”s constructive to look at these two cases together.”
Cynthia Wilbanks, University vice president of government relations, said Conyers” service to the state of Michigan as well as the University has made him “a champion to people.”
Conyers said he has proposed legislation every year since 1989 to establish a commission which would investigate the possibility of slave reparations for 15 months and then issue a report.
The commission would contain members appointed by both the President and Congressional leadership. But Conyers said he believes it has failed in part because people want to leave the past where it belongs, and most people think that since they did not own slaves, they should not be responsible with it.
“It is not a question of what your ancestors did or did not do. This is a national issue,” Conyers said.
Conyers said the government has never officially apologized for enslavement of blacks in the early part of this nation”s history, and feels reparations could help mend past mistakes
“We”re not talking about a Holocaust. We”re talking about centuries of continuing violent subjection,” Conyers said.
Conyers also said people question whether reparations will make the United States more diverse, or whether it will further divide the nation. He feels Americans need to know more about the issue before anything significant will come.
“There”s a level of awareness that has to be raised to precede national legislation,” Conyers added.