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March 31, 2023

Texas congressman seeks reconciliation with America’s ugly past

A Texas congressman is pursuing several initiatives that address the legacy of American slavery.

Speaking on March 30 at the American Bar Association Civil Rights and Social Justice Section’s Economic Justice Summit, Rep. Al Green (D-Texas) called on lawyers to support multiple efforts related to honoring American slaves and assisting their living descendants.

The ABA conference at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C., was held to draw attention to social issues with economic implications and on its opening day, Green said America needs to do more to “acknowledge and appreciate” what slaves did to help lay the foundation “for the America we enjoy today.”

Green’s ambitious agenda includes legislation that calls for the establishment of a federal Department of Reconciliation and a Securities and Exchange Atonement Act. He is also pursuing measures to recognize enslaved Americans, such as a national Slavery Remembrance Day and posthumous Congressional Gold Medal honors.

Pointing to Georgetown University as an example of how to atone for wrongs with more than a verbal acknowledgement, Green called himself a “proud descendant” of enslaved people and said those lives should be remembered: “We need to do this to gain greater respect for the people who made America beautiful…and labored centuries without any recompense.”

Green’s legislation calls for the atonement of past wrongs by U.S. financial institutions, which helped to finance aspects of slavery. He said most banks have agreed they have not done enough for racial atonement.

“Georgetown has given us the preeminent example,” said Green in reference to the school’s Reconciliation Fund that awards $400,000 annually to community-based project that have direct impact on descendants of slaves. “Those banks and financial institutions should do what Georgetown has done acknowledge truth and then atone.”

Green also called for a Department of Reconciliation in the U.S. government. He said there should be reparations for slavery descendants and said the best way to achieve it would be through an official department because those entities report directly to the president of the United States.

“This is not going to be something that will take place over one term or two terms of a presidency,” Green said. “It’s going to take years; it may take decades. But if we have a Department of Reconciliation, we show that we’re committed to the elimination of insidious discrimination.”

Green seeks further ways that honor enslaved Americans. He wants a national Slavery Remembrance Day as a commemoration that differs from the celebratory Juneteenth holiday.

And he wants Congressional Gold Medal “awarded to the enslaved people who sacrificed their lives, born into slavery, lived through slavery and died as slaves.”  Noting that these medals honored confederate soldiers in 1956, they should also posthumously go to the Africans who were brought to America on the White Lion slave ship in 1619 and their descendants.

Green cited Martin Luther King Jr. as a prime motivator of his efforts: “America should do this to help bend the arc of the moral universe to justice.”

“It takes people to bend the arc. We are the people, and this is the time,” he said.

The Economic Justice Summit continues through Friday, March 31 and can be viewed online. The public can register for virtual attendance here

Summit supporters include: Truist, Georgetown University Law Center, the DC Bar, American Tax Policy Institute, ABA Section of Taxation and Francine J. Lipman. Co-sponsors areABA Business Law SectionABA Center for Public Interest LawABA Commission on Homelessness and PovertyABA Criminal Justice SectionABA Forum on Affordable Housing and Community Development LawABA Section of State and Local Government Law and ABA Young Lawyers Division.

The ABA Civil Rights and Social Justice Section provides leadership within the legal profession in protecting and advancing human rights, civil liberties and social justice. Representing over 10,000 members with a wide range of professional interests, the section keeps its members abreast of complex civil rights and civil liberties issues and ensures that the protection of individual rights remain a focus of legal and policy discussion.