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Congresswoman Cori Bush Says the Federal Government Must Account for Its Role in Perpetuating and Upholding White Supremacy

February 17, 2021

Congresswoman Bush Explains the Need for Reparations in House Judiciary Committee Hearing

ST. LOUIS, MO – In a House Judiciary Committee hearing today, Congresswoman Cori Bush (MO-01) discussed white mob violence, the racial wealth gap, and structural white supremacy during the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties Subcommittee hearing on H.R. 40: the “Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act,” which would, among other things, create a commission to study the history of slavery in the United States and in the American colonies, its lingering effects, and make recommendations for appropriate remedies.

WATCH

“I come as one, but I speak as many,” said Congresswoman Cori Bush. “I bring with me today, my family, James E. Bush, Vera Bush Whitley, Ulysses Blakney, Clifton Blakney, and generations of Black men and women who have labored on this land, who have fought for this country, and to whom, our country is deeply indebted.” 

“Underlying the generational trauma and exploitation is a government that abandoned its role to protect its own citizens,” the Congresswoman continued. “A government that refused to even acknowledge the humanity of my ancestors. A government that - to this day - refuses to acknowledge or atone for the wrongdoings of white supremacist violence. The federal government must account for its ongoing role in perpetuating, supporting, and upholding white supremacy.”

To watch and download the Congresswoman’s full exchange with The Honorable Shirley Webber, California Secretary of State and sponsor of state reparations commission legislation, click here.

The Congresswoman’s remarks as prepared are below:

St. Louis and I thank you, Chairman Cohen, for convening this important hearing. 

I come as one, but I speak as many. I bring with me today, my family, James E. Bush, Vera Bush Whitley, Ulysses Blakney, Clifton Blakney, and generations of Black men and women who have labored on this land, who have fought for this country, and to whom, our country is deeply indebted.

My story is a story of survival. It is a story of my ancestors who were enslaved in Mississippi and South Carolina. It is a story of the Great Migration, the mass migration of 6 million African Americans out of the rural South.

When white farmers traveled to the West in search of land, they were granted 160 acres of free land through the Homestead Act. My family was denied the promise of 40 acres and a mule in the aftermath of the Civil War and the start of Reconstruction. 

My story is the story of a great grandfather who served this country in WWI, and a grandfather who served this country in WWII, only to be discarded by their government as they suffered through trauma and the wounds of war. 

When white soldiers came back from fighting abroad, they were given housing preferences and education subsidies. My grandfathers Ulysses and Clifton Blakney were denied those benefits. 

My story is a story of men and women who fled violence, who were stripped of their rights and protections, who were left out of G.I. bills, and New Deal subsidies. 

The violence my family withstood from one generation to the next was not isolated. It was systematic. It was structural. It was political, backed by legislation passed by this very body to deny Descendents of enslaved people economic and social opportunity.  

Underlying the generational trauma and exploitation is a government that abandoned its role to protect its own citizens. A government that refused to even acknowledge the humanity of my ancestors. A government that - to this day - refuses to acknowledge or atone for the wrongdoings of white supremacist violence.

The federal government must account for its ongoing role in perpetuating, supporting, and upholding white supremacy. 

Restoring the harms of slavery and white supremacy cannot be done through small-scale policies. COVID-19 has shown that without ambitious federal policies, the racial wealth gap will continue to grow. 

I began this hearing recounting the story of my ancestors. As we re-imagine justice in the face of unimaginable pain, we cannot lose sight of the people at the heart of this tragedy. People like my ancestors who fought for our country, who made a home of this country even though it betrayed them. We owe it to our ancestors to fight for so much more than 40 acres and a mule. We must fight for truth, honor, and justice.

Thank you, and I yield my time. 

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Congresswoman Cori Bush represents Missouri’s First Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives. She serves on the House Judiciary Committee and the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. She is also a Deputy Whip of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and a proud member of the Congressional Black Caucus. She is a registered nurse, single mother, and an ordained pastor. Following the murder of Michael Brown Jr. by a now-terminated Ferguson police officer, she became a civil rights activist and community organizer fighting for justice for Black lives on the streets of Missouri and across the country.