Author Ta-Nehisi Coates was met with applause Wednesday after delivering powerful testimony during the first-ever congressional hearing on reparations for slavery.
Coates, 43, whose 2014 Atlantic magazine feature, “The Case for Reparations,” is credited for sparking renewed discussions around restorative justice for those impacted by the legacy of slavery, brought down the house when he challenged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) argument that the government shouldn’t pay reparations because slavery is “something that happened 150 years ago.”
The GOP lawmaker spoke against the issue Tuesday, calling reparations “not a good idea,” as it would be too hard to determine who’s actually eligible for compensation. He added that while America is still a work in progress, “no one currently alive was responsible for [slavery].”
In his opening remarks, Coates blew a hole through McConnell’s claims by pointing out that the U.S. was still doling out payments to the heirs of Civil War soldiers “well into this century.” He also noted that the US government still honors treaties it signed decades ago, even though those who signed it aren’t alive today.
Coates went on to argue that by the time the enslaved were emancipated, Black folks comprised “the largest single asset in America,” one that was cultivated via “rape, torture and child trafficking.” He noted that even though slavery had been abolished, the atrocities and racism against Black Americans raged on.
“When it ended, this country could have extended its hallowed principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to all, regardless of color,” Coates said. “But America had other principles in mind. And so, for a century after the Civil War, black people were subjected to a relentless campaign of terror — a campaign that extended well into the lifetime of Majority Leader McConnell.”
The acclaimed author and journalist proceeded to rattle off a list of injustices McConnell, 77, was present for.
“He was alive for the electrocution of George Stinney,” he said. “He was alive for the blinding of Isaac Woodard. He was alive to witness kleptocracy in his native Alabama and a regime premised on electoral theft. Majority Leader McConnell cited civil rights legislation yesterday — as well he should, as he was alive to witness the harassment, jailing, and betrayal of those responsible for that legislation by a government sworn to protect them.”
Coates added that, “while emancipation dead bolted the door against the bandits of America, Jim Crow wedged the windows wide open. And that is the thing about Senator McConnell’s “something”: It was 150 years ago. And it was right now.”
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