A Metro Council member has filed a potentially controversial resolution in support of a federal study on the feasibility of financial or other reparations for slave descendants.
Council member Melvin Black, who is sponsoring the resolution, says legislative bodies in other citiesChicago, Detroit, and Dallas, to name a fewhave already gone on record encouraging the creation of a federal commission to study the possibility of reparations. Specifically, Black’s legislation is asking the Council as a body to encourage congressional passage of a bill that Democratic U.S. Rep. John Conyers of Michigan introduces annuallyso far without success.
“The city of Nashville is not the very first city that has moved with resolutions in support of Conyers’ bill, and I’m sure there are others that are looking at this,” Black says.
Conyers’ legislation, known formally as the “Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act,” would establish a commission to examine “racial and economic discrimination against African Americans, and the impact of these forces on living African Americans, to make recommendations to the Congress on appropriate remedies.”
Moreover, the proposed act says, the commission would “examine the institution of slavery which existed from 1619 through 1865 within the United States and its colonies that became the United States, including the extent to which the federal and state governments constitutionally or statutorily supported the institution of slavery.”
About three-fourths of the 40-member Metro Council signed on to Black’s resolution, which will be considered at next Tuesday’s Council meeting and which has no binding effect. “I feel really good that that number has found the need to sign on to this particular legislation,” Black says. “It is critical.”
The second-term Council member points out that neither he nor the rest of his colleagues supporting the resolution are necessarily saying they’re in support of financial reparations for slave descendants. What he is saying is that it’s worth studying.
“This is, you know, an issue that can be sort of touchy in the hearts and minds of some people who have the ingrained notion that money’s coming to individuals,” Black says. “This certainly is not our intent. A commission would examine all of that. It would make recommendations. It would also examine whether there’s a lingering effect today [of slavery].”
At-large Council member Howard Gentry Jr., who is among those co-sponsoring Black’s resolution, stresses that all itand the federal legislation, for that matterasks for is a study. “I would support a study,” he says. “I don’t know exactly what would come of it, but I know that enough questions have been raised as it relates to reparations to warrant a study.”
Council member Ginger Hausser, who also signed on to the resolution, says there’s nothing wrong with simply looking into the study. “I think asking for a study is reasonable,” she says. “There’s no harm in looking at something like that. What I did tell Councilman Black is if we were ever to give due reciprocity to what African Americans and, in my view, women have suffered through during the course of history in the United States, probably all the money in the federal government couldn’t do that.”
While a majority of the Council ultimately may support the resolution, not all Council members were comfortable becoming Black’s cosponsors. “I think it would be incredibly divisive racially,” says at-large Council member David Briley. Briley also says that any reparations arising as a result of a federal commission could create “an excuse for ending affirmative action,” which he says wouldn’t be advisable.
Black says he got the idea for his legislation from a reporter who called to tell him about Conyers’ bill. He says it’s also in keeping with the theme that came out of last year’s National League of Cities meeting he attended. “The idea was to go back and do something in every city over the past year to erase racism,” he says. “Racism is so prevalent, still prevalent.”
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