Ilhan Omar renews push for slavery reparations after Juneteenth made federal holiday

ILHAN Omar has renewed calls for descendants of black slaves to be paid reparations as the country celebrated Juneteenth as a federal holiday for the first time on Saturday.

"Proud #Juneteenth is now a federal holiday," the Minnesota Democrat wrote in a tweet. "As we reflect on the significance of what this day symbolizes, let’s keep fighting to address the lasting consequences of slavery. Next step: reparations."

President Joe Biden officially declared June 19 – or Juneteenth – a federal holiday on Friday. The historic date celebrates the emancipation of black slaves following the conclusion of the Civil War.

The subject of reparations has been debated in America for well over a century.

In 1865, William Sherman, a Union Army general during the war, ordered that land confiscated from Confederate landowners be divided up into portions and handed out to newly emancipated African-Americans.

However, after President Abraham Lincoln's assassination, the order was rescinded by his successor President Andrew Johnson.

Discussions as to whether and how the government should issue reparations have remained subjects of debate in the US ever since.

Omar, a group of the progressive firebrand group known as "the Squad", previously called for reparations after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody in May 2020.

Fellow Squad member Rep. Cori Bush also called for reparations for black Americans in a tweet on Friday, writing: "It’s Juneteenth AND reparations. It’s Juneteenth AND end police violence + the War on Drugs.

She added: "It’s Juneteenth AND end housing + education apartheid. It’s Juneteenth AND teach the truth about white supremacy in our country.

"Black liberation in its totality must be prioritized."

While the idea is far from new, both federal and local lawmakers have worked to introduce legislation regarding reparations in the aftermath of Floyd's death, which sparked global racial injustice protests.

In April, the US House Judiciary Committee (HJC) approved a bill that would set up a program to study how, and whether, reparations to Black citizens could be made to atone for the nation's slave trade.

One of the supporters of the bill was Detroit-based House Democrat and fourth squad member Rashida Tlaib.

“It is past time for reparations for African Americans in the United States,” she said in a statement at the time. "Slavery and the Jim Crow Era are dark, ugly chapters in this country’s history that continue to pervade every aspect of life today.

"We will not be able to fully root out hate, bigotry, and discrimination toward African Americans and undo economic, political, and social inequities until and unless we begin atoning for the sins of this country.”

In February, the White House indicated that President Joe Biden would support studying reparations for slavery – but has stopped short of confirming whether he would sign the HJC's bill.

The following month, in Evanston, Illinois, local lawmakers approved a plan to make reparations available to black residents over historical discrimination and the lasting effects of slavery.

The plan, the first of its kind in the US, will see the suburb of 75,000 people distribute $400,000 to eligible black households.

As part of the plan, the city will award $25,000 to a small number of eligible Black residents for home down payments, mortgage payments, or home repairs.

"Our goal here in Evanston is to repair the egregious acts against the Black community, specifically by the Evanston municipal government," said Robin Rue Simmons, one of the drivers behind the plan.

The funds are set to be distributed beginning this summer, however, the plan is already off to a rocky start.

Critics have argued that what the city is offering is actually a housing voucher program and not reparations.

Rose Cannon, an organizer of Evanston Rejects Racist Reparations, told ABC7 reparations should be direct payments to black residents with no restrictions on how to spend them.

"We want them to stop calling it reparations," she said, adding she fears other cities may follow Evanston's lead. "You can have this program if you want to, but just call it a housing program."

Elsewhere in the country, officials in Asheville, North Carolina, approved a budget agreement that sets aside $2.1 million to fund reparations earlier this month.

The money for reparations will come from city land first purchased for $3.7million in the 1970s as part of a series of urban renewal programs that tore apart black communities, the Asheville Citizen-Times reports.

"We must collectively strive to close gaps of the immeasurable distance between us and affirm the promise of the Declaration of Independence that all people have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," Mayor Esther Manheimer read in the proclamation.

The money will not go directly into pockets, but will instead be used to invest in low-income black communities and fund a series of other programs to address the racial wealth gap.

Mecklenburg County, in North Carolina, has also committed $2 million toward a reparations-like equity program to help black residents buy homes and obtain small business grants.

Also this month, in Detroit, thousands have signed a petition to call on the city to vote on reparations this fall.

The efforts are being led by the Michigan Democratic Party (MDP) Black Caucus.

If successful, the initiative would establish a committee to oversee the creation and development of a "Reparations Fund" that would distribute funds “to address historical discrimination against the Black community in Detroit.”

California also launched its own reparations committee on June 2 to investigated how the state might compensate black residents for slavery and the knock-on effects it caused.

The committee, the first of its kind in the nation, will investigate the matter over the course of the next two years.

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