Easthampton backs federal bill to examine slavery, discrimination from 1619-present

  • Easthampton City Council President Homar Gomez co-sponsored a resolution that passed on Wednesday to support a bill in Congress that sets out to examine slavery and discrimination in the U.S. from 1619 to the present, and recommend appropriate restorative actions. FILE PHOTO

  • Easthampton Municipal Building, 50 Payson Avenue GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 12/11/2022 6:11:08 PM

EASTHAMPTON — The City Council threw its weight behind a bill in Congress that sets out to examine slavery and discrimination in the U.S. from 1619 to the present, and recommend appropriate restorative actions.

“I want to be clear: This country abused African Americans ... And it’s time to recognize it. It is time to teach history the way that it is, because that way we don’t repeat it,” City Council President Homar Gomez said shortly before the council unanimously passed a resolution at its Dec. 7 meeting in support of the bill.

Precinct 5 Councilor Dan Rist requested that the resolution receive “immediate consideration,” which cleared the way for its approval in one meeting rather than it being sent to committee for an initial discussion. Councilors still had the opportunity to object to the resolution if they preferred that it be sent to committee.

Gomez, who is a native of Puerto Rico, noted that his father was not allowed to go places because of the color of his skin.

“This is just one step,” he said. “We have to keep moving forward.”

In July, Amherst became the second community in the nation to officially commit to reparations for its Black residents. The Town Council set a goal of committing $2 million over the next 10 years to a dedicated reparations fund aimed at repairing hundreds of years of harm perpetuated against residents of African heritage. The town established a stabilization fund for the purpose of reparations last year.

Meanwhile, activists in Northampton are calling on the City Council to establish a reparations commission that would examine the city’s historical links to slavery and racism, as well as address current racial inequities in areas like housing and employment.

Easthampton’s resolution was brought forward by Gomez and At-large Councilor Koni Denham at this week’s council meeting as a way to acknowledge, condemn and express regret for the role past residents throughout the Valley played in the enslavement of Black individuals, and recognize the ongoing detrimental impacts experienced by the Black residents of Easthampton as a result of the enslavement of their ancestors.

“We want to actively condemn that particular history but also use this as an opportunity in terms of both supporting this commission,” Denham said. “We’ve been discussing opportunities to create educational opportunities to engage citizens of Easthampton in dialogue about what our history of this community is, and our particular role in the enslavement of Black individuals.”

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com.
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