Rep. Cori Bush says $14 trillion reparations bill will 'eliminate the racial wealth gap'

The bill notes the White House and Congress were built by enslaved Black people.

May 19, 2023, 3:18 PM

For the first time, the extensive history of the enslavement of Africans, post-Jim Crow discrimination and other racially charged subjects has been entered into the congressional record -- and repairing the lasting damage these institutions caused will have a hefty price tag, according to one Democratic lawmaker.

In 23-page legislation introduced Thursday, Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., called on Congress to adopt several measures aimed at righting historic wrongs, including urging the federal government to issue federal reparations to Black Americans and other reparatory justice efforts. A minimum of $14 trillion would be needed "to eliminate the racial wealth gap that currently exists between Black and White Americans," the resolution argues.

"The United States has a moral and legal obligation to provide reparations for the enslavement of Africans and its lasting harm on the lives of millions of Black people in the United States," H.R. 414 declares.

PHOTO: In this Apri l27, 2023, file photo, Representative Cori Bush speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.
In this Apri l27, 2023, file photo, Representative Cori Bush speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.
Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters, FILE

Joining her at the press conference on Wednesday was Eric Miller, one of the attorneys for 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. The Greenwood District of Tulsa, known as the "Black Wall Street," was burned to ashes by white mobs on May 31, 1921. The last survivors of the massacre filed a lawsuit suing the city of Tulsa and local government entities and will find out within days whether or not their lawsuit will be able to proceed.

"There's a huge amount of history that hasn't been uncovered," Miller told ABC News.

"We want to get the opportunity to paint the picture, just as Congressman Bush is painting a picture of exactly what happened," he added, noting he wanted to "call out [the] names" of the "hundreds of pictures of people engaged in the massacre."

The resolution also calls for further momentum on the state and local levels.

The Missouri congresswoman told ABC News that she is one of an estimated 40 million people in the U.S. who are descendants of enslaved Africans -- and argued in her resolution that the federal government "must compensate descendants of enslaved Black people and people of African descent in the United States to account for the harms of chattel slavery, the cumulative damages of enslavement, and the epochs of legal and de facto segregation."

PHOTO: Black smoke billows from fires during the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921, in the Greenwood District, Tulsa, Okla., June 1921.
Black smoke billows from fires during the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921, in the Greenwood District, Tulsa, Okla., June 1921.
Historical/Corbis via Getty Images, FILE

The resolution explores the history of enslaved Africans dating back to 1565 and notes that many of the early presidents of the U.S. enslaved Black people. Standing outside of the Capitol, Bush told ABC News her resolution doesn't shy away from the history of the nation's capital, stating that the White House and the Capitol were both built from the labor of enslaved Black people.

The U.S. benefited from over 222 million hours of forced slave labor, or the equivalent of roughly $97 trillion worth of work, between 1619 and 1865 during the end of slavery, the resolution estimates. But unlike the white enslavers, Bush notes, "those who were stripped of their dignity and made to work without compensation, they weren't repaid."

While Bush's bill focuses on reparations, it also takes aim at modern political topics, dinging states for their restrictions on "teaching of the ways in which racism has shaped the law and way of life in the U.S." and arguing that present-day disparities stem from historical inequities.

"The reason why the United States is where it is economically is because of enslavement," Bush told ABC News.

Her effort follows a similar bill from Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., reintroduced on Thursday, which called for the creation of the "United States Commission on Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation." That bill, Lee said, would create a "Commission [that] will examine the effects of slavery, institutional racism, and discrimination against people of color, and how our history impacts laws and policies today."

Bush and Lee's bills aim to be companions to H.R. 40, the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act. That bill was named for a promise made shortly after the end of the Civil War wherein Union leaders promised formerly enslaved families "40 acres and a mule" -- a promise that was never fulfilled. H.R. 40, has been introduced in every legislative session since 1989.

The centuries-old promise languished in Congress for decades until H.R. 40 passed out of the House Judiciary Committee in 2021. It has since failed to come to a vote in either the House or Senate.

The resolution remains unlikely to be brought up for a vote in the Republican-led House, and members of the GOP slammed the proposal as "shameful."

"While American families of all backgrounds struggle with rising prices, border chaos, rampant crime, a flood of fentanyl, and record debt -- this is what House Democrats are focusing on," Rep. Tom Tiffany, R-Wis., tweeted Friday of Bush's resolution. "It's shameful."

While the proposal likely won't get a vote this Congress, Bush told ABC News she hopes her bill will help build momentum for other reparations efforts, particularly those on the state and local levels.

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