June 19 (UPI) -- Congress marked Juneteenth with a hearing Wednesday on reparations for descendants of slaves, a controversial topic that hasn't been debated openly at Capitol Hill in a decade.
The Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties discussed House Resolution 40, which calls for a study to "develop reparation proposals for African-Americans," the bill reads. It also includes a formal apology from the U.S. government "for the perpetration of gross human rights violations and crimes against humanity on African slaves and their descendants."
Author Ta-Nehisi Coates reignited the debate with his article, "The Case for Reparations," in 2014, bringing the concept of paying current African Americans for what their ancestors experienced back to the forefront. He testified before the subcommittee Wednesday about the role slavery played in making the U.S. economy strong in the 1800s.
"It's impossible to imagine America without the inheritance of slavery," said Coates, adding that the economy was dependent upon slavery, which included "torture, rape and child trafficking."
That inequality continued long after the Civil War ended in 1865.
"For a century after the Civil War, black people were subject to a relentless campaign of terror," Coates said.
Booker said this is an "important hearing" and it is "urgent." He proposed the American Opportunity Accounts Act, or baby bonds, that provide every child born in the United States with a $1,000 savings bond regardless of race. The government would continue contributing to that every year with children from the poorest families getting up to $2,000 that would be accessible when they turn 18. It could be used for home ownership or education.
"We as a nation must address these persistent inequalities," Booker said. "It's about time we find common ground and common purpose to deal with this ugly history."
The country has "yet to truly acknowledge and grapple with the racism and white supremacy that tainted this country founding and continues to cause persistent and deep racial disparities and inequality. These disparities don't just harm black communities, they harm all communities."
The hearing comes one day after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he doesn't believe in reparations.
"I don't think that reparations for something that happened 150 years ago, for whom none of us currently living are responsible, is a good idea," McConnell said. "We tried to deal with our original sin of slavery by fighting a Civil War, by passing landmark civil rights legislation. We elected an African-American president."
Coates noted McConnell's comments during his speech.
"Majority Leader McConnell cited civil-rights legislation yesterday, as well he should, because he was alive to witness the harassment, jailing and betrayal of those responsible for that legislation by a government sworn to protect them," Coates said. "He was alive for the redlining of Chicago and the looting of black homeowners of some $4 billion. Victims of that plunder are very much alive today. I am sure they'd love a word with the majority leader."
Redlining was a practice used by mortgage providers to keep black people from buying homes.
Several Democratic presidential candidates expressed support for the resolution, including Booker, Beto O'Rourke, California Sen. Kamala Harris, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and former Secretary of Housing and Urban Affairs Julian Castro.
Juneteenth is a holiday that celebrates the day slaves in Texas found out they were free.
Before the hearing, hundreds of people lined up outside the doors of the hearing room, including some that raised their fists in the black power symbol. Once the hearing began, the crowd applauded or booed speakers.