Juneteenth 2023: Reparations activists demand Biden take executive action for justice

Washington DC - This Juneteenth, activists and advocates are once again calling on President Joe Biden to enact a federal reparations commission by executive order.

Demonstrators participate in a Juneteenth march for reparations, voting rights, and an end to gun violence on June 19, 2023.
Demonstrators participate in a Juneteenth march for reparations, voting rights, and an end to gun violence on June 19, 2023.  © IMAGO / NurPhoto

Black Americans around the country are urging Biden to move beyond what many see as symbolic gestures and use the power of his pen to create a reparations commission on Juneteenth.

The body of experts – convened according to the framework laid out in HR 40, the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act – would be tasked with studying the history of enslavement, Jim Crow, and present-day structural racism. It would also be responsible for developing proposals to address the lasting harms we see today, including racial disparities across wealth, education, employment, health, and the legal system.

Calls for reparations for Black Americans have amplified since the murder of George Floyd in May 2020. Less than a year later, HR 40 advanced out of the House Judiciary Committee for the first time in its 30-plus-year history. The legislation went on to gain a record number of co-sponsors in the 117th Congress.

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Amid growing demands for racial justice, Biden signed a bill in 2021 making Juneteenth a federal holiday, but he has yet to follow through on his 2020 campaign promise to support a reparations commission.

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Protesters gather in front of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington DC before beginning their march to the White House.
Protesters gather in front of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington DC before beginning their march to the White House.  © IMAGO / NurPhoto

Juneteenth has since become a target date within the reparations movement for federal action to redress the lasting legacies of enslavement and institutional racism, and this year is no different.

The reparations movement is increasingly multi-racial and multi-generational. The call for Black reparations has received support from Japanese-American groups, who experienced their own form of reparations with the 1988 Civil Liberties Act – passed just one year prior to the initial introduction of HR 40.

Interfaith advocacy has also played a major role in the modern-day push for justice, with Catholic, Protestant Christian, Jewish, and Muslim groups noting that Biden has both a legal and a moral responsibility to act on reparations.

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Meanwhile, reparations task forces are advancing in California, New York, New Jersey, and numerous cities across the country, adding pressure on the federal government.

Despite overwhelming calls for redress, Biden has not given any indication he plans to establish a reparations commission.

Cover photo: IMAGO / NurPhoto

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