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Oversight Hearing on the Legacy of Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Testimony of Charles J. Ogletree, Jr. Executive Director, The Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice, Harvard Law School

Oversight Hearing on the Legacy of Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Testimony of Charles J. Ogletree, Jr. Executive Director, The Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice, Harvard Law School

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  Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives,Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties
Oversight Hearing on the Legacy of Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade  Testimony of Charles J. Ogletree, Jr.Executive Director, the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Raceand Justice, Harvard Law School
 Tuesday 12/18/2007 - 10:00 AM2141 Rayburn House Office Building  
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Dear Congressman John Conyers, and Members of the House Judiciary Committee, and theSubcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties:I'm very pleased to appear before the Committee today to discuss the OversightHearing on the Legacy of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, which will consider H.R. 40, thehistoric legislation proposed by Congressman John Conyers in 1989.
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Congressman, let mefirst thank you for your historic actions in 1989. Your resolute effort to seek a discussion of reparations for descendants of those Africans captured during the Atlantic Slave Trade, wasan important and timely effort in 1989. It is, ironically, even more important and timely in2007. What we should have known then, and clearly know now, is that the horrors of theSlave Trade have yet to be addressed and the passage of time makes it even more difficultfor us to respond to one of the most tragic, brutal, and for some, financially beneficialperiods in American history.
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The time has come for this great country, to once again,address its past, and do so in response to the urgent need to heal wounds and bring togethera nation that has yet to heal from the vestiges of slavery. Let us be clear going forward. Thisis an effort to further study and understand the legacy of slavery. HR 40 is, essentially abouteducation, about increasing knowledge and uncovering the truth about our collective self. The question about what might follow from that knowledge is of course, still open. HR 40might best be viewed as a brave, crucial step toward true healing.I speak today as the Founder and Executive Director of the Charles HamiltonHouston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School. The Houston Institute isnamed after Charles Hamilton Houston, one of Washington DC's most revered intellectualsof the 20th century, and a 1922 graduate of Harvard Law School. Mr. Houston was also ViceDean at Howard Law School, training such legal luminaries as the late Justice ThurgoodMarshall and the late Oliver Hill, among others. Mr. Houston fought for our country during  World War I, and was working to end racial segregation in our country during World War II.He died at a relatively young age of 54 on April 22, 1950.
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The Charles Hamilton HoustonInstitute is designed to carry on Mr. Houston's important work in the 21st century fighting for racial justice in this nation and abroad.I support the call for reparations for the descendants of the millions slaves whotoiled in this county for decades, and who never were compensated for their labor. Ourcounty's history in addressing issues of past discrimination long after they occurred is atestament to our willingness to look back in order to move forward. That resolve is mostclearly observed in the unity displayed, by Republicans and Democrats, by veterans andcivilians, and by conservatives and liberals, during the historic passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988.
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The Act was designed to correct injustices against American citizens decadesafter their suffering. It was an Act that followed apologies and regrets by some of America'smost important leaders, including the late Chief Justice Earl Warren, who, long after his
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Commission to Study Reparations Proposals For African Americans Act, HR 3745 IH,http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c101:hr3745:. Accessed 17 December, 2007.
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See Randall Robinson,
The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks 
. New York: Plume, 2000.
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For a biography of Houston, see Genna Rae McNeil,
Groundwork: Charles Hamilton Houston and the Struggle for Civil Rights 
. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1983.
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Pub.L. 100-383, title I, August 10, 1988, 102 Stat. 904, 50a U.S.C. § 1989b et seq.
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pivotal role in the internment of over 100,000 Japanese Americans during World War II,acknowledged that the decision was wrong and regrettable.
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In 1941, testifying before theHouse Committee, then California Governor Earl Warren said, “The only reason that therehas been no sabotage or espionage on the part of Japanese-Americans is that they are waiting for the right moment to strike.”
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 Some years later, the retired Chief Justice Earl Warren stated in his autobiography :I have since deeply regretted the removal order and my own testimony advocating it,because it was not in keeping with our American concept of freedom and the rightsof citizens. Whenever I thought of the innocent little children who were torn fromhome, school, friends and congenial surroundings, I was conscience-stricken.
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  What is even more assuring than the regrets of former Chief Justice Earl Warren isthe bipartisan effort to respond to the internment of 100,000 Japanese American citizensduring World War II. Among those who supported The Civil Liberties Act of 1988 wereSenator Robert Dole, Republican from Kansas, and Senator Daniel Inouye, Democrat fromHawaii. Both were World War II veterans, both seriously wounded during the War, and bothfirmly committed to The Civil Liberties Act.
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The laudable goals of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 portend well for what the supporters of H.R. 40 should pursue, in tone and scope. TheCivil Liberties Act of 1988 could not have been clearer: The Congress recognizes that, as described in the Commission on WartimeRelocation and Internment of Civilians, a grave injustice was done to both citizensand permanent residents of Japanese ancestry by the evacuation, relocation, andinternment of civilians during World War II. As the Commission documents, these actions were carried out without adequatesecurity reasons and without any acts of espionage or sabotage documented by theCommission, and were motivated largely by racial prejudice, wartime hysteria, and afailure of political leadership. The excluded individuals of Japanese ancestry suffered enormous damages, bothmaterial and intangible, and there were incalculable losses in education and jobtraining, all of which resulted in significant human suffering for which appropriatecompensation has not been made.For these fundamental violations of the basic civil liberties and constitutional rightsof these individuals of Japanese ancestry, the Congress apologizes on behalf of theNation.”
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For a discussion of Warren’s lobbying for internment, see Ed Cray,
Chief Justice: A Biography of Earl Warren 
.New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997. pp 112-123
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Testimony before Congress on the Internment of people of Japanese Ancestry (1941)
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Earl Warren,
The Memoirs of Chief Justice Earl Warren 
. Lanham: Madison Books, 2001.
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For a discussion of Republican support for the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, see Leslie Hatamiya,
Righting a Wrong: Japanese Americans and the Passing of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 
. Stanford: Stanford University Press,1993. Pp 38-42.
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