“The bodies of the enslaved served as America’s largest financial asset. . . The profits from cotton propelled the US into a position as one of the leading economies in the world, and made the South its most prosperous region.”
Those are the words of Journalist P. R. Lockhart detailing how America became the dominant world force it is today. However, that dominance came at the expense of hundreds of thousands of Black Americans. Why should the constituents of the 2nd Congressional District care?
In the book, The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and The Making of American Capitalism, author Edward E. Baptist details the role that Louisiana played in the peculiar business of slavery and the creation of wealth in this country. Baptist writes: “The boat passed Iberville Parish, and there were few sugar plantations. By the time it reached Baton Rouge, there were only cotton fields. . .” He goes on to say, “Louisiana’s Napoleonic code, however, required notaries to keep record of every local slave trade. Almost all the New Orleans ledger books have survived, and they are stored in the city’s Notarial Archives on the fifth floor of the Amoco building on Poydras Street.”
Those statements highlight not only Louisiana’s involvement, but the 2nd Congressional Districts’ connection to that history and a means to access and study the role of Louisiana’s involvement in the enslavement of Black people’s ancestors.
No longer can we ignore the role that America and Louisiana played in enslaving Black Americans to build this country’s economy while keeping Black Americans locked out of the same wealth their ancestors helped create.
At the end of Apartheid, South Africa grappled with its past when they created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This commission was an attempt to address the past wrongs, carried out by the South African government, against its own citizens. It’s long past time America does the same.
Thirty years ago the late great congressman from Michigan John Conyers proposed House Resolution 40: The Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans.
P.R. LOCKHART, How Slavery Became America’s First Big Business, VOX (AUG. 16, 2019), https://www.vox.com/platform/amp/identities/2019/8/16/20806069/slavery-economy-capitalism-violence -cotton-edward-baptist (last visited Jan 29, 2021).
 Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act, H.R. 40, 115th Cong. (2017).
The resolutions states:
“[A]s a result of the historic and continued discrimination, African-Americans continue to suffer debilitating economic, educational, and health hardships including but not limited to; having nearly 1,000,000 Black people incarcerated; an unemployment rate more than twice the current White unemployment rate; and an average of less than 1⁄16 of the wealth of White families, a disparity which has worsened, not improved over time.”
On January 4, 2021, Representative Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas reintroduced H.R. 40, maintaining the urgent need to establish “the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans. The purpose of the commission is to examine slavery and discrimination in the colonies and the United States from 1619 to the present and recommend appropriate remedies.
The commission shall identify (1) the role of the federal and state governments in supporting the institution of slavery, (2) forms of discrimination in the public and private sectors against freed slaves and their descendants, and (3) lingering negative effects of slavery on living African Americans and society.”
Gary is a strong proponent of H.R. 40 and will advocate for and vote to support this much-needed legislation. Gary believes that for us to heal as a nation, and to address the equitable division of wealth in this country, we must grapple with the nation’s original sin of chattel slavery.