PHILADELPHIA – Several hundred people gathered at Mother Bethel AME Church here March 1 to hear Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) speak about HR-40, a bill to establish a commission to examine the institution of slavery and discrimination against African Americans and the impact of these on African Americans living today.

The commission, which would be called the Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African Americans, would then make recommendations to Congress on appropriate remedies. Conyers has introduced this bill yearly since 1989, but it has never been referred out of the Judiciary Committee.

He noted that reparations were paid to Japanese Americans or their relatives for internment during World War II and loss of property, etc. Germany reparated Jews for war crimes inflicted against them. Iraq was forced to pay reparations to Kuwait.

“We must move this country to do the right thing,” said Conyers. “The legacy of slavery is still with us – look at our education, health care, lifespan, incarceration, disenfranchisement, deteriorated communities, attack on affirmative action.”

The National Coalition of Blacks for Reparation (NCOBRA) organized the meeting to begin its initiative, “A Year of Black Presence,” which will bring thousands of Black people and others to Congress to lobby for HR-40. A coalition of 14 Philadelphia organizations, including the NAACP and the Black Radical Congress, have committed themselves to this lobbying effort. Organizing will also begin in Detroit, Chicago and New York.

“America does not have enough money to pay us for what happened,” said Milton McGriff from NCOBRA. “But something has to be done.”

HR-40 calls on the U.S. to do five things: 1) Acknowledge what happened; 2) Apologize; 3) Build a monument to the enslaved; 4) Recommend forms of compensation and recipients; and 5) Make sure it never happens again.

During the question/answer period one man asked how long it will take before we get reparations. Conyers answered, “When we get serious, register to vote and make it our Number One issue.”

Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.) talked about the critical mass being 218 supporters in Congress. A group of Harvard lawyers are working on suits to file. The issue has also been discussed with some African leaders.

Those present at the meeting were asked to write letters to Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, asking him to immediately schedule hearings on HR-40. Lobbying efforts will begin this fall.