Everybody seems to be trying to crowd into the Time Machine and go back and fix the past: slavery, displaced Jews’ takeover of Palestine, the American Indian Trail of Tears, the Armenian genocide of 1914, the annexation of Hawaii.

Now there’s a hue and cry among various activists to have U.S. House Resolution 40 passed. You may not have heard of it.

The news media tend to refer to it as a reparations bill to pay something — the figure $14 trillion is tossed around — to undefined Black people as a monetary apology for slavery.

First of all it’s not a bill. It’s only a resolution and only in the U.S. House and if it were to become a bill and then an act or law, all it would authorize is a study about reparations. That’s one helluva long way from $14 trillion dollars flowing out of the U.S. Treasury.

It would establish a study commission, and you know how those things go. Ten years from now…

But before you laugh, a recent poll found that a majority of Americans — 56% — support the creation of the HR 40 study commission.

I suspect this is mostly about politics because by far the most supporters of the resolution are Democrats in control of the House.

California, a heavily Democratic state, now has a new law creating a nine-member “Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans, with a Special Consideration for African Americans Who are Descendants of Persons Enslaved in the United States,” according to the text of the bill. Odd, this law, because California was admitted to the Union in 1850 as a free state and has no history of legal slavery.

Public interest in the topic was kick-started by the writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, whose 2014 cover story “The Case for Reparations” was in The Atlantic magazine. It argued that “it is impossible to imagine America without the inheritance of slavery.”

The “40” in that resolution is a reference to the 40 acres of land promised but never delivered to former slaves by Union Army Gen. William Sherman in 1865. The theory is that if they had gotten that land they would not have been so poverty-stricken after the Civil War. And not so second-class today.

That land offer was overturned by President Andrew Johnson. But obviously it was never meant to be. Only 40,000 of approximately 4 million of the formerly enslaved were settled on just 400,000 acres of land before Johnson reversed the order.

New Orleans had ignored Sherman’s order on its own. It erected a Canal Street monument which declared on a plaque that the 1896 election of President McKinley was the establishment of “white privilege” and Blacks had no land or even residence claims. That was only removed in 2017.

Robert Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television, proposes that Under H.R. 40 about 40 million African-Americans would get $350,000 in direct cash payments over 30 years, costing the average taxpayer roughly $2,900 a year. The $350,000 would signify the wealth disparity between African-Americans and white Americans.

But that poll I mentioned earlier was done before the Covid crisis and out $25 trillion national debt. We don’t have any money for reparations at the moment and opposition to the idea is growing.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., says “I think we’re always a work in progress in this country, but no one currently alive was responsible for that [slavery], and I don’t think we should be trying to figure out how to compensate for it.”

Weeks after George Floyd died when a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck, the California State Assembly passed a bill to establish a task force to study and develop reparation proposals for African Americans.

But since then, nothing.

I predict that the whole matter will be one of those things that pop up with crowd popularity for the moment and then fade into the woodwork.

In the 2021 Congress session, somebody will ask “whatever happened to H.R.40”?


Published by Bob Jones

Journalist since age 19. St. Petersburg Times, Noticias y Viajes in Madrid, Overseas Weekly in Frankfurt and Paris, the Louisville Courier- Journal, the Honolulu Advertiser, KGMB-TV, NBC News foreign correspondent in Africa and Southeast Asia, and MidWeek columnist. LL.B LaSalle University Law. 3 years in the U.S. Air Force. Covered: Biafran War in Nigeria (1968) Vietnam War (1969-73), Iraq in 1991. George Foster Peabody Award for distinguished journalism for reporting in China. 2 Emmys for documentaries. Married to journalist Denby Fawcett; one daughter. Brett Jones, foreign service officer, State Department.

8 replies on “An Idea Whose Time Has NOT Come.”

  1. Read the Coates’ edited Vanity Fair cover to cover. It’s extremely informative and explains a lot.

  2. I don’t know that it is possible to give reparation to Black Americans without first considering and repairing the damage to Native Tribes. My goodness, what a racist destructive nation, America! It’s destructive disrespect, greed spreads world wide!

        1. It’s been noted that incessant disassociation, projection, and denunciation can be indicative of myopia and self loathing.

  3. Hold it, Bob. Whose poll are we talking about? What were the questions? What was the sample? What was the error rate. You know how easy it is to taper poll results and even when they are “clean”, how different they can be. Last week, one poll had Biden at least 10 points ahead of Trump nationally while the Zogby Poll (a well-respected poll which has
    a very strong reputation for intense, careful, sampling) had the 2 men separated by fewer than 5 points. We need better proof that a “majority” of Americans favor even a study commission. Very weak premise for concern. Back in the day, if i’d brought you this column as is, you’d still be chewing me out.

  4. How about the American Indians some of whom were slave owners? How about the millions of African Americans living now who came to the US after slavery was abolished?
    The whole thing is taking money from people who never had slaves and giving it to people who were never slaves

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