Last week, U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, D-Fla., spoke on the House floor in support of the Commission on the “Social Status of Black Men and Boys Act.”
The bill, which was introduced by U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., will establish a 19-member commission examining the social disparities that disproportionately affect black males in America.
Soto’s remarks are below:
Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of legislation we just passed, the Commission on the Status of Black Men and Boys, that was sponsored by my fellow Floridian, Congresswoman Wilson.
Slavery lasted for over 246 years in America, from 1619 to 1865. It’s one of America’s original sins. People think of the Civil War as ancient history, but there’s still children of slaves alive today. They may be in their late 80s or early 90s, but it makes you realize it wasn’t that long ago.
Through the 13th and the 15th amendments, we saw great change, prohibiting slavery, creating citizenship, due process and the right to vote for African Americans.
Then, you had the Reconstruction era which started out with a promising potential. Federal troops helped ensure votes throughout the nation. We elected African Americans to the House and Senate, and according to Sherman’s promise, everyone would get 40 acres and a mule. It all came tumbling down though, starting with the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. President Johnson began to dismantle reconstruction, and then President Hayes ended Reconstruction 1877 as part of a corrupt deal to ensure his presidency.
In the south, African Americans were arrested and put on chain gangs, among other ways to force them into indentured servitude. Those in the north and west faced discrimination: discrimination in jobs, housing, justice, education, health care and marriage. Even facilities became segregated. This reached a fevered pitch with The Birth of a Nation in 1915, restarting the KKK and lynchings, and renewing interest in the Confederacy, its leaders and its symbols. It played upon every terrible stereotype of African-American men on the silver screen for the impressionable public to see. But it didn’t stop there. Financial segregation was generationally punishing.
African-American troops fought in World War 1 and World War 2 in segregated units for a country that discriminated against them. Then, they came home and were shut out of the New Deal programs during the Great Depression, shut out of V.A. student loans and home loans, and missed out on the greatest expansion of the middle class during the 1950s. And it was then that their renewed civil rights fight was just beginning.
With the success of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of 1960, we saw some improvement, victories fought hard by the late John Lewis whom we have just lost. Even with these advances, discrimination persisted in the system of justice, finance, business, and other foundations of our society. Add in the 1980 War on Drugs and the 1994 Crime Bill, and the list of laws and rules that systematically breaks up black families, especially the arrests of black men.
It reverberates today as our nation looks inward after the murder of George Floyd about our country’s racist past and institutional bias against black men and boys as well as black women and girls. This why the Commission on the Status of Black Men and Boys, as well as the Justice and Policing Act, are so important.
There must be an investigation, a realization and a reckoning in America about the racist past of this country and generational theft, and we must develop lasting solutions if we are to progress as one nation where every American is created equal. And with that I yield back Mr. Speaker.