When John Wiley Price took the microphone yesterday at the Dallas County Commissioners Court meeting, his fellow commissioners appeared appropriately remorseful during his monologue on African-American suffering throughout American history. But that doesn't mean they were paying attention.
Price took the mic to urge passage of a resolution commemorating Juneteenth, a holiday marking the day that word arrived in Texas that slavery had ended. It arrived, or course, two-plus years after Lincoln abolished slavery, raising questions about whether it should be celebrated at all. Regardless, Price used the holiday to speak broadly about the hardships African-Americans have faced throughout American history, delving into slavery, Jim Crow laws, civil rights, and contemporary issues of income inequality and predatory lending.
Commissioner members appeared to be listening, but they clearly missed Price's last sentence, which called for monetary reparations for slavery:
"The United States of America is derelict in its promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to the African-American people. Be it further resolved that the dereliction that has caused 400 years of significant ... suffering to the descendants of those who have been enslaved Africans who built this country, should be satisfied with monetary and substantial reparations to same."
Immediately after Price stopped speaking, a voice eagerly chimed, "Seconded!" and the other three members unanimously chanted "aye" to pass the resolution. It was only later that members began to realize that they'd supported such a politically fraught decree.
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After the vote, as word circulated of what they'd approved, the commissioners quickly regretted it, Commissioner Mike Cantrell told Unfair Park this morning. Cantrell promptly changed his vote to "abstain." The others kept their votes, since the proclamation is purely ceremonial. (Calls to Wiley Price and Judge Clay Jenkins were not immediately returned.)
"I do not support reparations, and I do not support one of the statements he made, which was that the United States was derelict in his promise to African-Americans," Cantrell said. "I think Commissioner Price went too far, and I can't support that."
Juneteenth Resolutions are common in cities across the country, and this is not the first time a Juneteenth Resolution has passed in the Dallas County Commissioners Court. But this time, Price had neglected to send out the printed text of the resolution in time for the meeting. It's a lot easier to comprehend something when you have it in print form in front of you than when someone is saying something, Cantrell said.
"I had no opportunity to review it, to see what was in the resolution," he said. "As Commissioner Price was reading this I was trying to find a copy because it sounded like he was going way over what he typically does."