ANNAPOLIS – A Democratic Baltimore legislator wants a task force to study the issue of reparations for African-American descendants of slaves.
Sen. Lisa Gladden said she hopes the legislation would open a dialogue on race in America.
“It (race) is clearly a part of our social fabric,” Gladden said.
Reparations, a drive to secure compensation for descendants of slaves, was the driving force behind the proposed law, introduced on the eve of Black History Month.
The task force would study the history of and the government’s role in African slavery in the United States. After investigating slavery’s effects on today’s society, the task force would recommend remedies for past wrongs.
Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, the first African-American elected to Maryland state office, said any possibility of reparations must be dealt with on a national level.
“Reparations begin when the federal government says three words: `I am sorry,'” Steele said.
But Sherrilyn A. Ifill, a University of Maryland law professor, said examining the past on a local level was important to understanding slavery’s impact on contemporary society.
“It helps us to have a better conversation on issues such as affirmative action,” Ifill said.
The NAACP and the Maryland Legislative Black Caucus support the bill.
The NAACP backed a similar resolution to the U.N. World Conference Against Racism. The NAACP pledged to promote the rights of descendants of slaves, including access to “just and fair compensatory measures.”
Gladden declined to offer definite remedies for reparations.
She pointed to historic moments when groups formally apologized for their treatment of past victims, including Pope John Paul II’s expressed regret over the treatment of Jews during the Holocaust. But then she said an apology was not necessarily the answer.
Identifying those who would pay reparations and those entitled to payment is an inexact science.
And critics argue that establishing connections to slavery would be difficult.
Ward Connerly, chairman of the American Civil Rights Institute based in California, has opposed a drive to bring reparations to California last year.
Connerly, who led a campaign to change the University of California’s policy of using race as a factor in student admissions and authored Creating Equal: My Fight Against Race Preferences, has said reparations are unrealistic, especially for identifying victims.
But Gladden, serving her first term in the state senate after winning what she described as a race “fraught with racial undertones,” was committed to the issue.
“It’s not a bill to be offensive, it’s a bill to spark academic discourse.”