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Sanders Backs Committee to Study Slavery Reparations

Sen. Bernie Sanders in Washington, D.C., April 1, 2019 (Carlos Barria/ Reuters)

Senator Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) said Friday that if he is elected president in 2020 he would sign legislation that would create a commission to explore the payment of reparations to African Americans.

Following his remarks at Al Sharpton’s National Action Network Conference, Sanders was asked whether he would support a bill, introduced by Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D., Texas), that would form a commission to study the institution of American slavery and devise a plan to compensate living descendants of slaves.

“If the House and the Senate pass that bill, of course I would sign it. There needs to be a study. But I think what we need to do is to pay real attention to the most distressed communities in America,” Sanders said.

The bill, which was dubbed H.R. 40 in a nod to the government’s promised provision of “40 acres and a mule” to newly freed slaves after the Civil War, has already received the backing of a host of 2020 Democratic hopefuls, including Senators Cory Booker of New Jersey and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, former representative Beto O’Rourke of Texas, and Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii.

“In short, the Commission aims to study the impact of slavery and continuing discrimination against African-Americans, resulting directly and indirectly from slavery to segregation to the desegregation process and the present day,” Jackson Lee said in a statement announcing the bill’s introduction in January. “The commission would also make recommendations concerning any form of apology and compensation to begin the long delayed process of atonement for slavery.”

Sanders has proven more hesitant to embrace reparations than many of his primary opponents and recently said direct payments to the descendants of slaves would not be the best way to help “distressed communities.”

“I think what we have got to do is pay attention to distressed communities — black communities, Latino communities, and white communities. And as president, I pledge to do that,” Sanders said in interview on ABC’s The View.

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