Four hundred years after the first enslaved Africans set foot on the land that would come to be known as the United States of America, and 154 years after the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolished slavery "except as punishment for a crime," the legacy of slavery lives on.
It lives on through the system of mass incarceration, as African Americans are over six times more likely to be sentenced to prison for the same crime as a white person. It lives on through redlining and other forms of housing discrimination, which has shut out many Black families from being able to afford and keep their own homes. It lives on through the racial wealth gap, with white families holding nearly 10 times the amount of wealth as Black families.
That is why scholars like Sandy Darity of Duke University, activists from the Movement for Black Lives, and some political leaders have called for reparations as the only viable means of truly leveling the playing field and dismantling systemic barriers.
The concept of reparations for slavery is not new. House Resolution 40 — named for the unfulfilled promise of 40 acres and a mule made to newly-freed Blacks after the Civil War — was first introduced in Congress by Democratic Rep. John Conyers of Michigan 30 years ago. The bill, which would create a commission to study and develop reparations proposals, has been introduced in every Congress since but has failed to pass.
H.R. 40 was reintroduced this year by Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas — but this time the measure is getting more attention, in part because it's being talked about by many of the Democratic candidates running to unseat President Donald Trump in 2020.
Here's where the current crop of Democratic presidential candidates stands on reparations:
Cory Booker: The junior U.S. senator from New Jersey, Booker not only supports H.R. 40 but this week introduced companion legislation in the Senate. "This bill is a way of addressing head-on the persistence of racism, white supremacy, and implicit racial bias in our country," he said. He has also proposed a "baby bonds" bill that seeks to shrink the racial wealth gap by giving children born in the U.S. $2,000 at birth and additional amounts every year after based on their family income.
Pete Buttigieg: Although Buttigieg, the current mayor of South Bend, Indiana, has said he does not believe direct cash payments are the best way to approach reparations, he supports H.R. 40 and has said that "we need to have some kind of accounting for the persistent racial inequities today there by design because of part and present racism."
Julian Castro: Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio and Housing and Urban Development secretary under President Obama, has said he supports reparations and has not ruled out direct payments as a means of issuing them. "If under the constitution we compensate people because we take their property," he has said, "why wouldn't you compensate people who actually were property?" Castro says that, if elected, he will appoint a commissioner or task force to make recommendations on reparations.
John Delaney: A former member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Maryland, Delaney spoke at the recent convention of the National Action Network (NAN), the civil rights group led by Rev. Al Sharpton, and said he would sign H.R. 40 into law if he is elected.
Tulsi Gabbard: The U.S. Representative for Hawaii's 2nd Congressional District, Gabbard is the only current presidential candidate who is also a co-sponsor of H.R. 40.
Kirsten Gillibrand: Gillibrand, the junior U.S. senator from New York, also attended the recent NAN conference, where she said, "I firmly support Congresswoman Jackson Lee's bill to create a commission to study reparations."
Mike Gravel: According to the campaign website of Gravel, a former U.S. senator from Alaska, the U.S. should create a National Commission on Reparations "to assess claims from descendants of those affected by discriminatory government policies, including slavery, Jim Crow, redlining, Native American treaty violations, and segregation in federal employment." Gravel also proposes the establishment of a National Reparations Trust Fund which would go toward programs to benefit historically black colleges and universities, Native American communities, and public monuments honoring historically disadvantaged groups.
Kamala Harris: The junior U.S. senator from California has said that she supports reparations for slavery. She has also noted that one form reparations can take is funding mental health treatment for African Americans to address the trauma caused by slavery and its aftermath.
John Hickenlooper: The former Colorado governor also endorsed H.R. 40 at the recent NAN conference. "We must own our past, and acknowledge the shame, the sin, the injustice and the ongoing consequences of enslaving an entire race of people," he said.
Jay Inslee: When asked recently if he supports reparations, Inslee, the current governor of Washington, instead chose to voice his support for universal programs that would address intergenerational poverty. Inslee has not come out in support of reparations specific to African Americans.
Amy Klobuchar: Klobuchar, the senior U.S. senator from Minnesota, has voiced support for reparations and said she believes the money doesn't have to be disbursed through direct payments. "Acknowledge what's happened," she said. "That means better education. That means looking at, for our whole economy, community college, one-year degrees, minimum wage, child care. Making sure that we have that shared dream of opportunity for all Americans."
Wayne Messam: The mayor of the Florida city of Miramar and president of the National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials, Messam has not given a statement on reparations to date.
Beto O'Rourke: After initially declining to support reparations, the former Texas congressman attended the recent NAN conference where he agreed that he would sign H.R. 40 into law if he is elected president. O'Rourke cited conversations with Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama to explain his change of heart. "Foundational to reparations is the word repair," O'Rourke said, quoting Stevenson, "foundational to repair is the truth."
Tim Ryan: Ryan, the U.S. representative for Ohio's 13th Congressional District, told the recent NAN conference that he would support H.R. 40 if elected president.
Bernie Sanders: Sanders, the junior U.S. senator from Vermont and an independent running as a Democrat, has said he does not believe direct cash payments are the best way to issue reparations. But at the recent NAN conference, he said that he would sign H.R. 40 into law as president.
Eric Swalwell: Swalwell, the U.S. representative from California's 15th Congressional District, has not given a statement on reparations.
Elizabeth Warren: At a CNN town hall in Mississippi last month, the senior U.S. senator from Massachusetts voiced strong support for reparations. "We live in a world where the average white family has $100 (and) the average Black family has about $5," Warren said. "So I believe it's time to start the national full-blown conversation about reparations in this country."
Marianne Williamson: Among all the candidates, Williamson, an author, lecturer, and activist, appears to be the only one who has laid out plans for a specific reparations program. Her proposal would designate $200 billion for reparations for African Americans, with the money to be disbursed over a 10-year period by a council of African-American leaders.
Andrew Yang: At the recent NAN conference, Yang, an entrepreneur and philanthropist based in New York, said he would sign H.R. 40 into law if he is elected president. Yang also supports a universal basic income for every American adult aged 18 to 64 as a response to workforce changes related to automation.