By Kamm Howard
On Thursday, June 30, legislators of the Illinois House of Representatives passed a historic resolution calling on President Obama to create a reparations study commission.
Introduced by Rep. La Shawn K. Ford and co-sponsored by Reps. Mary Flowers, Litesa Wallace, Monique Davis, Camille Lilly and Marcus Evans, Jr., House Resolution 1011 was adopted in an equally historic, unanimous vote.
The Resolution calls on President Obama, through executive order, to commission a study to detail the “economic impact” of enslavement and the failure of the nation to create a system that guaranteed equality to newly freed African descendants upon emancipation. In addition, the study would look at how others who received reparations in America have benefited from them and offer reparation proposals that address the legacy of enslavement among current African descendants in the areas of “education, employment, housing health care and justice.”
“Many years ago, it was promised to slaves and the descendants of slaves that they would be repaid not only for the forced labor that helped build this country to its current greatness, but for the terror that was slavery” said the sponsor of this legislation, Rep. Ford.
“Given the real history of our country and the role slavery played in it, launching a commission to study slavery and the role of reparations is appropriate.”
This resolution is the first reparations legislation (in the modern era) passed by a state legislation calling for the federal government to intercede to address obstacles that people of African descent face resulting from the economic exploitation, abuse, and terror of enslavement and its aftermath, Jim Crow segregation.
It is a statement, in effect, that proclaims that Illinois recognizes that it is unable to address the acute in-equalities that enslavement and continued racial injustices have produced among its African American citizens.
Nor should this burden be on the states alone. Enslavement and racial segregation were laws sanctioned by the federal government. As such, and because they were crimes against humanity, the federal government is mandated by international human rights norms to fully repair the harms created by those crimes.
This is the message the Obama administration needs to hear now and address before he leaves office.
Rep. Ford was inspired, in part, to present this legislation by the visit of the United Nations Working Group of Experts for People of African Descent. Concluding their Jan. 2016 visit, they stated,
“There is a profound need to acknowledge that the transatlantic slave trade was a crime against humanity and among the major sources and manifestations of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and that Africans and people of African descent were victims of these acts and continue to be victims of their consequences. Past injustices and crimes against Afri- can Americans need to be addressed with reparatory justice.
Moving forward, Rep. Ford would like to go to Washington and deliver the resolution to the President.
The National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America’s Chicago Chapter (N’COBRA), in consultation with the National Black United Front, Chairman Emeritus, Dr. Conrad Worrill, suggests a “50 – state strategy” to build national awareness and momentum around this historic legislation.
Dr. Worrill sees this action as one that would emulate the national action in 2000 that produced various cities adopting slavery disclosure ordinances. Chicago, led by former Alderwoman Dorothy Tillman, was the first city to pass such legislation.
In the upcoming weeks, under the leadership of State Senator Donne Trotter, this idea of nationalizing this effort will be shared with state legislators from around the country. At the Legislative Summit of the National Conference of State Legislators that will be held at the McCormick Place in August, Sen. Trotter will assist in presenting this action to this body.
Finally, human rights enforcer, Willie JR Fleming, (Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign) is also seeking to further this effort by re-assembling the powerful United Nations People of African Descent – Chicago Mission. It was this Chicago and Midwest coalition that organized the visit of the United Nations Working Group of Experts for People of African Descent to Chicago in January of this year.
There will be a planning gathering at Malcolm X Community College on Thursday, July 28 at 6:30 p.m. of coalition members. This meeting is open to community.
Kamm Howard is Chair of the Legislation Commission for the Chicago Chapter of N’COBRA, the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America.