Rep. Barbara Lee Proposed Creating the First Truth and Reconciliation Commission in U.S. History

Supermajority Education Fund

July 1, 2020

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) has introduced a proposal in Congress to create the first United States Commission on Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation in the nation’s history. This proposal would create a commission with a mission “to properly acknowledge, memorialize, and be a catalyst for progress toward jettisoning the belief in a hierarchy of human value, embracing our common humanity, and permanently eliminating persistent racial inequities,” according to the bill’s text.  

“This is really about telling the truth,” Lee said at a June 1 press conference unveiling the proposal, which the San Francisco Chronicle reports she has been refining for three years. As protesters across the United States continue to march against racism and white supremacy and the country’s battle against the COVID-19 pandemic continues, Lee added that “the environment that has been created makes this resolution and this effort more important.”

The congresswoman also stressed that while she supports proposals that have called for reparations for Black Americans descended from slavery, that is not the main focus of her new bill. The bill currently has 28 Democratic co-sponsors, including civil rights leader John Lewis and several other members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

“The Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation (TRHT) Resolution puts us on the path of reconciling our nation’s brutal history with the grave situation we currently face,” Lewis said in a statement.

Experts say that a commission dedicated to studying the impact of enslavement and racism on Black Americans is necessary if the United States is truly committed to increasing civil rights for all Americans. “To move forward from grave injustices as a country, you have to acknowledge what’s been done,” Christina Greer, an Associate Professor of Political Science and American Studies at Fordham University, told Supermajority News. Greer noted that South Africa’s 1995 Truth and Reconciliation Commission was an integral part of that country’s path forward from apartheid and could be used as a model for the United States.

“We have never fully acknowledged the atrocities that this country has committed on Black citizens,” said Greer, adding that the commission should not only examine the impact of enslavement and the Jim Crow era, but should also look at how health disparities, housing discrimination, and police violence disproportionately affect Black Americans to this day.

Greer adds that it is significant that Lee’s bill is being introduced at a time when attitudes towards the Black Lives Matter movement are shifting. A June 12 poll from the Pew Research Center found that two-thirds of U.S. adults said they supported the movement, with that sentiment being widespread across racial and ethnic groups.

“Time is of the essence when it comes to these conversations ⁠— people are actually listening and paying attention,” said Greer. “This the beginning of a really important conversation if we want to move forward as a country.”