California’s Reparations Task Force will release its first of two reports today detailing the history of slavery and racism in the state and recommending ways in which the legislature could begin a process of reparations for black Californians, including proposals to provide housing subsidies, free tuition and raise the minimum wage. .
The 500-page study describes decades of state and federal actions that have harmed black Americans — from American slavery to the most recent redlining, mass incarceration, police actions and the growing wealth gap between blacks and whites.
After police killed George Floyd and the nationwide protests that followed, Governor Gavin Newsom signed legislation in 2020 establishing the task force to study and develop a plan for reparations in the state. The law gave “special consideration” to black Americans who are the direct descendants of slaves.
The task force report offers dozens of recommendations, including that the legislature “implement a comprehensive reparations program.” Final details — including the exact monetary amount of compensation and the number of eligible Black Californians — will be in a second report due to the legislature by July 2023.
The task force recommends the creation of 10 new offices within the state government to oversee the administration of reparations, including an Office of African American/Freedmen Affairs to help people file compensation claims and a Freedmen’s Genealogy Office to help people prove their eligibility with genealogical research.
From slavery to the KKK
It is unclear how many people would be entitled to reparations. The task force estimates that, despite California’s anti-slavery constitution, about 1,500 enslaved black people lived in the state in 1852.
After the official abolition of slavery, California became fertile ground for the Ku Klux Klan. The report states that in the 1920s the KKK held more events in California than in Louisiana or Mississippi. In Los Angeles, the police department was overflowing with KKK members. In Kern County, Klansmen routinely beat and kidnapped black and Latino residents.
The report also referenced numerous instances of segregation and housing covenants across the state. And it described the massive destruction of several black neighborhoods and towns.
In the 1950s, for example, the city of San Francisco razed Fillmore, a black business district, destroying 883 businesses and displacing around 20,000 people from nearly 5,000 homes.
The task force proposes that people who have lost their homes to government foreclosures, urban renewal projects, highway construction or racist attacks be eligible for housing subsidies and interest-free loans .
Their recommendations are intended not only to address specific instances of past abuse or harm, but also to support future generations of Black Californians.
The proposed Bureau of Freedmen’s Education and Human Services would offer free tuition to black privately educated K-12 students and those pursuing higher education in the state. It would also ensure that school curricula reflect a “broader discussion of the experiences of Black Americans in an accurate and honest way,” the report said.
The task force also proposed raising the minimum wage, requiring health benefits and paid vacations, and other workplace protections for workers in agriculture, hospitality, food and household industries where there were large numbers of black workers but fewer worker protections, the report said.
Black Californians seeking reparations could file a claim with the Reparations Tribunal/Reparations Administration, the proposed arm of the reparations process that would accept or deny a request.
A national example
“Without a specifically targeted remedy to heal the wounds colonial and American governments inflicted on 16 generations of Black Americans and dismantle the foundations of these systems,” the report states, “the ‘badges and incidents of slavery’ will continue to harm black Americans in almost every aspect of American life.
Kamilah Moore, chair of the task force, said its report is the first government publication proposing remedies for institutional racism against black people since the 1968 Kerner Commission, a federal study commissioned by President Lyndon Johnson.
“This report is extremely timely and urgent. I hope people will use it not just as an educational tool, but as an organizational tool,” Moore said.
“It’s not just helpful for people living in California, but for community members, voters, and organizers across the United States…to champion the causes of the African-American community wherever they go.” find.”
In March, the task force voted that African Americans who are direct descendants of enslaved or freed black people living in the United States before the end of the 19th century would be eligible for reparations.
The task force is the only statewide initiative examining reparations. Cities like Asheville, North Carolina and Evanston, Illinois have launched reparations initiatives at the local level, but at the federal level, HR 40, a bill that would commission a reparations study, remains stalled. Congress.
Steps to recovery
Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, a Democrat representing Compton, is pushing to extend the life of the task force another year. Under Assembly Bill 2296, which was passed by the Assembly, the task force will continue its study until July 2024.
“Black economic growth and prosperity were severely hampered by racist policies aimed at suppressing African Americans even after slavery ended,” he said in a statement.
“I believe that…state lawmakers will be receptive to the report’s analysis, but will remain true to their obligation to question the approach, costs and implementation. The Reparations Working Group should remain constituted for another year to help guide, advise and review any issues or questions that may arise… The need to have the Working Group available to provide its experts to assist with questions Once the Legislature has determined what, if anything, stems from these studies will be crucial to the success of this monumental step toward a cure.
Over the summer, partner organizations such as the California Black Power Network and the Black Equity Collective will host public listening sessions on the report’s findings. The task force will resume hearings in Los Angeles in September.