A top Republican has scotched calls to compensate US slaves’ descendants, as the first congressional hearing on the issue in a decade is held.
US Senate leader Mitch McConnell said “no one currently alive was responsible for that” in reference to the historic enslavement of African Americans.
The US House of Representatives is holding a session on the grassroots campaign for slavery reparations.
Several Democratic White House hopefuls have taken up the idea.
Asked about the issue on Tuesday, Mr McConnell told reporters: “I don’t think reparations for something that happened 150 years ago for whom none us currently living are responsible is a good idea.”
He said that “it would be hard to figure out to who to compensate”.
“We’ve tried to deal with our original sin of slavery by fighting a civil war, by passing landmark civil rights legislation,” he added. “We elected an African-American president.
“I think we’re always a work in progress in this country, but no one currently alive was responsible for that.”
Actor Danny Glover is among those due to testify in favour of reparations on Wednesday before the judiciary subcommittee on the constitution, civil rights and civil liberties.
Republicans on the panel have called two witnesses to lay out the opposing case.
The session will examine “the legacy of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, its continuing impact on the community and the path to restorative justice”, according to the committee.
The issue – which has been debated since the US Civil War – has bubbled up in the race for next year’s presidential election.
Democratic candidates such as Kamala Harris, Beto O’Rourke and Bernie Sanders have said that as president they would form a commission to study the matter.
Reparations have often been interpreted as direct financial payments to black Americans.
But one economist, William Darity, has suggested a “portfolio of reparations” beyond remittances.
He has said this could combine funding of black education and healthcare, as well as ensuring that public schools properly teach the full impact of slavery.
Among those also due to testify before the House committee on Wednesday is writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, whose 15,000-word cover story for the Atlantic magazine in 2014, The Case for Reparations, reignited the whole debate.
Before the hearing, he told the New York Times: “We can’t say that things that ended 150 years ago don’t matter but somehow the American Revolution does matter. Either the past matters or it doesn’t.”
The hearing is being held on Juneteenth, which commemorates 19 June 1865 when Texan slaves finally learned they were free, two-and-a-half years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.