H.R. 3432, “A bill to establish the Commission on the Abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade,” has now become law.

As I reported last month, the House and Senate had passed identical versions of this legislation, after the Senate removed the authorization of funding. The bill was then sent to the White House. Yesterday, on its tenth and final day on the president’s desk, Bush signed the bill into law.

This legislation establishes a commission to promote public and private commemorations of the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the U.S. slave trade in 1808. While the commission currently has no funding, the legislation does acknowledge the historical importance of the bicentennial of the abolition of the slave trade and seeks to encourage public and private actors to commemorate the occasion.

4 Responses to “H.R. 3432 becomes law”

  1. Steve B says:

    While I certainly appreciate the sentiment, isn’t this sort of meaningless? The bill “authorizes” the effort, yet allocates no actual funding to make it happen.

    So it is essentially a “feel good” piece of pap, designed to present the appearance of “doing something,” without actually, you know, doing much of anything. This way the administration can say that they’ve promoted racial harmony, supported equal rights, and condemned the great evil of slavery…without cutting into anyone’s budget.

    I am, to say the least, underwhelmed.

  2. James says:

    Thanks for your comment, Steve.

    You’re absolutely right that the bill, stripped of its funding, accomplishes relatively little. However, this wasn’t the plan of the bill’s supporters, who wrote funding into the legislation. Nor was this the intention of the Bush administration, which had nothing to do with this proposal. The funding was removed by a senator who wasn’t a proponent of this legislation.

    As to whether the legislation is entirely meaningless without its funding, I think the bill’s goal was to promote awareness of the bicentennial of this historic event. The simple passage of the bill, and the position which Congress has taken on the issue, may help to accomplish this goal by raising awareness and encouraging private groups to commemorate the occasion. Should the commission itself come into being, presumably it will be able to further promote the 200th anniversary.

  3. Steve B says:

    Genuine question here:

    What do you see as being the “the lingering effects {of slavery} on today’s society” that H.R. 194 would work to eliminate?

    It is already illegal to disciriminate in housing, education, lending, or employment based on race. What else do you see needing to be done?

  4. James says:

    Great question, Steve.

    I don’t support H.Res. 194, but I do agree with the resolution that our society still exhibits the lingering effects of slavery and the century of discrimination which followed (which is what H.Res. 194 talks about).

    While you’re right to point out that it’s now illegal to discriminate in the ways you mention, these laws merely try to end the formal types of discrimination which blacks endured for the first century following the end of slavery. They don’t try to rectify the consequences of that discrimination, any more than ending slavery and dumping the formerly enslaved into society in the 1860s undid the harm which they had suffered.

    To take one example, Steve, consider how much wealth blacks have in the U.S. Slavery robbed them of everything they had, and left them with very little afterwards. In Traces of the Trade, Professor Charles Ogletree of Harvard Law School argues that after slavery, blacks had about 1% of the wealth of the nation. Today, well more than a century later, blacks have … about 1%.

    Is that equality? Is that even progress towards equality? Is it justice? Can you say that, in this respect, the slaves or their descendants were ever “put right” after the evil of slavery, or given a fair chance to improve their lot in the “Jim Crow” era which followed?

    Wealth is, as I mentioned, just one example. The same stark discrepancies exist in the areas of home ownership, education, employment, and so on, despite the laws prohibiting discrimation in those areas.

    I’m not trying to suggest that the wealth of this nation should be taken and divided equally among all its citizens, or anything like that. But I think it’s impossible to argue that the vast wealth disparity between whites and blacks in this country was primarily caused by anything other than our history of slavery and discrimination. And surely there are ways to improve opportunities, provide better education, and so forth, without placing an undue burden on anyone.

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