The concept of reparations isn’t new to Seattleites. Many of us know people whose Japanese American families were incarcerated during World War II due to Executive Order 9066 and who received financial reparations through the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. An act of reparation, the controversial Boldt decision upheld long-ignored treaty-established Native American fishing rights. The Point Elliott Treaty of 1855 granted the Duwamish people neither tribal identity nor reservation land. Now, according to Real Rent Duwamish, more than 10,000 people voluntarily, in recognition of an ongoing injustice, pay the tribe monthly “rent.”

In this spirit, we, Grandmothers for Race and Class Equality (GRACE) offer our wholehearted support for passage of H.R. 40/ S. 1083, otherwise known as the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act.

As a diverse group of female elders, all U.S. citizens committed to righting the wrongs resulting from a system of white supremacy, we are clear that the legacy of slavery continues to shape and define life in this country. We believe that telling the whole truth about our history would be not only beneficial but essential if we are to fully understand past and present travesties and move forward as a nation. 

Some 400 years ago in 1619, 20 to 30 Africans were brought by ship as slaves to the coast of Virginia, followed for the next 250 years by approximately 4 million Africans and their descendants who were enslaved and whose rights, culture, language and ability to benefit from their own labor were systematically and brutally denied.

Even after slavery came to an end, exploitation, brutality and unfair treatment continued in the form of Jim Crow laws, lynching, separate and unequal practices, unfair housing and home-loan policies, inequities in education and health care, mass incarceration and more. Generation after generation of Black Americans have been deprived of the opportunity to accumulate wealth due to governmental policies and laws, even as they contributed substantially and indispensably to the nation’s prosperity.

We therefore call for the passage of H.R. 40 in order that we as a nation may more fully understand the consequences of and potential remedies for these atrocities. Elsewhere in the world, reparations have been effective in providing some compensation for grievous wrongs committed by nation states. The specifics of U.S. reparations are still to be determined, but we feel strongly that we must at the very least set the record straight and, as author and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates says, reconcile “our self-image as the great democratizer with the facts of our history.”

We believe that the establishment of this commission is the best means of encouraging a national reckoning and determining appropriate remedies, and fully support passage of H.R. 40, most recently sponsored by U.S. Rep. Jackson Lee and endorsed by 173 members of Congress, and S. 1083, currently introduced by Sen. Cory Booker and co-sponsored by 20 Senators, as necessary first steps.

GRACE members who contributed to this Op-Ed are: Valerie Bystrom, Sharon Felton, Ahoua Kone, Marcella Pendergrass, Annette Nelson, Mary Ann Soule.