California meets to determine reparations for Black residents

A task force has convened to study whether reparations are feasible for Black descendants of slavery

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Last year, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a historic order to study the possibility of reparations for descendants of slavery. Now that the bill has been signed into law, California is the first state government to approve a formal look into reparations.

California Governor Newsom Unveils His Economic Recovery Package For The State
California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks during a press conference at The Unity Council on May 10, 2021 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Per the Los Angeles Times, Assembly bill 3121, which was passed in a bipartisan effort, set the creation of a task force in motion.

“California has come to terms with many of its issues, but it has yet to come to terms with its role in slavery,” said Assemblywoman Shirley Weber (D-San Diego), who authored AB 3121. “We’re talking about really addressing the issues of justice and fairness in this country that we have to address.”

Though California joined the Union as a free state in 1850, persistent discrimination continued. Though outlawed by the state Constitution in 1849, slavery continued even beyond its abolishment nationwide in 1865. In 1852, the state enacted a fugitive slave law to return freed slaves to their masters in other states. People also brought slaves with them to California, who were forced to remain enslaved as laws weren’t enforced, per the Times.

Discrimination continued via segregation in housing and education. Black homeowners were prevented from buying in certain neighborhoods, and in 1964 a law that prohibited discrimination in the sale or rental of public housing was overturned by California voters.

“It was thrown out so we have had housing segregation, which of course leads to school segregation,” Charles P. Henry, professor emeritus of African American Studies at UC Berkeley told the Times.

“It leads to not only the absence of living in better neighborhoods, but also having better schools and all the implications that drove from that kind of discrimination. We could go on down the list in terms of criminal justice, et cetera. This history of California has been heavily documented by scholars throughout California and in the nation.”

The task force was designed to study the history of discrimination in the state and make recommendations. They met for the first time this week, as the Times reported.

The nine-member task force will meet 10 times over the next two years and issue a report on their findings which could include a formal apology, compensation, and policy reform recommendations.

There is some precedent to their work. Congress approved payments of $20K each to Japanese American who survived internment camps in World War II and the state of Florida paid $2M to survivors of the 1924 Rosewood massacre.

As listed by the Times, members of the task force, five of whom were appointed by the governor, two by the Senate and two by the Assembly are Cheryl Grills, Lisa Holder, Amos C. Brown, Jovan S. Lewis, Donald Tamaki, Kamilah Moore, Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, Sen. Steven Bradford, and Monica Montgomery Steppe.

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