Task Force Meets in San Diego, Debates Eligibility for California Slavery and Racism Reparations

The task force is charged with making recommendations to the legislature by June on reparations for the effects of slavery and systemic racism for Black people in the state

A state task force charged with studying and making recommendations for reparations to Black residents of California who have suffered harm from the effects of slavery and systemic racism met in San Diego Friday and discussed at length who would be eligible.

The meeting, which continues Saturday at the Parma Payne Goodall Alumni Center at the SDSU campus, comes less than six months before the task force is to issue its final conclusions.

The task force of nine members, including San Diego City Councilwoman Monica Montgomery Steppe, has been meeting regularly for the past 18 months around the state. The work is complicated and extensive: an interim report issued in June runs to nearly 500 pages. It is also groundbreaking, the first time any state in the country has tackled the issue of historical reparations for Black citizens.

The task force has already made some key decisions. The biggest, in March, was to determine that eligibility for any future payment would be limited to Black state residents who are descendants of enslaved people, or of a free Black person living in the U.S. by the end of the 19th century.

That standard would exclude some individuals, such as Black people who came to the U.S. after the end of the 19th century.

Among other issues the task force is hashing out, economists are attempting to quantify the economic losses stemming from redlining, mass incarceration, environmental harm, and other categories.

The task force is also expected to recommend non-monetary steps the state should take. These could include issuing a formal apology from the state, and deleting language in the state constitution that prohibits slavery, or involuntary servitude, except to punish a crime. That allows prisoners in the state to be paid low wages, advocates say.

The task force was created under Assembly Bill 3121, a bill authored by then-Assemblywoman Shirley Weber of San Diego. Now Secretary of State, Weber addressed the task force at the start of the meeting, urging them to finish the work on time. “If you don’t push it forward, it loses momentum,” she said.

Click here to read the full article in the San Diego Union Tribune

$5 Million for Each Longtime Black Resident? S.F. Has a Bold Reparations Plan to Consider

A century after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., and lamented how “the Negro still is not free.”

“One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity,” he said during his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech from the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

King could have been describing today’s San Francisco, a 47-square-mile city that’s home to more than 60 billionaires and at least 7,000 homeless people, around 40% of whom are Black, despite Black people representing only 5% of the population.

Right up until he was assassinated in 1968, King argued that economic justice was integral to racial justice. The idea is at the core of a draft proposal the San Francisco African American Reparations Advisory Committee presented to city leaders last month.

The Board of Supervisors created the committee, also called AARAC, in December 2020, amid a national racial reckoning. The board’s legislation, while innovative, was also narrow, allowing city leaders to reject or outright ignore the committee’s work.

What happens next will show whether San Francisco politicians are serious about confronting the city’s checkered past, or are simply pretending to be.

While California was never officially a slave state, slaveholders were protected here, and the committee’s research reveals that segregation, systemic oppression and racial prejudice born from the institution of slavery had a profound impact on the city’s evolution.

In the 20th century alone, San Francisco was a Ku Klux Klan stronghold, barred Black people from settling in certain areas, kept them out of city jobs and demolished the Fillmore, a Black neighborhood and commercial district, leaving it vacant for decades.

“Centuries of harm and destruction of Black lives, Black bodies and Black communities should be met with centuries of repair,” AARAC chair Eric McDonnell told me. “If you look at San Francisco, it’s very much a tale of two cities.”

AARAC’s draft proposal includes a number of financial recommendations. There’s one that will especially get folks talking.

AARAC calls for one-time, lump-sum reparations payments of $5 million to each eligible recipient. The amount could cover the “the economic and opportunity losses that Black San Franciscans have endured, collectively, as the result of both intentional decisions and unintended harms perpetuated by City policy,” the draft states.

To qualify for the payments, residents must be 18 at the time the committee’s proposal is enacted, and have identified as Black or African American on public documents for at least 10 years. They may also have to prove they were born in the city between 1940 and 1996, have resided in San Francisco for at least 13 years, and be someone, or the direct descendant of someone, incarcerated during the war on drugs.

To put that in perspective, the state reparations task force, which will issue its own proposal is June, believes that Black Californians may be due $569 billion for housing discrimination alone between 1933 and 1977.

The wealth disparity is not the result of bad fortune. The period of urban renewal that began in the 1950s remains one of the most damning examples of how local government stole wealth from Black communities by razing them, and then ensured they never recovered. As AARAC’s report highlights, most of San Francisco’s formerly redlined neighborhoods — where residents were deemed ineligible for federal housing loans between 1933 and 1954 — are low-income neighborhoods undergoing gentrification now.

While San Francisco isn’t unique in having systematically distributed its riches along racial lines, the city’s status as a liberal bastion makes it a powerful testing ground for undoing these damages, AARAC vice chair Tinisch Hollins told me.

“This reparations process gives us a chance to look at the many ways, not just economically, that harm can and should be repaired,” Hollins said. “And even though San Francisco has passed policies that touch on the legacy of slavery, we have needed something that goes toward quantifying that harm.”

As for next steps, the committee will submit its final proposal to city leaders in June. Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin told me he hopes his colleagues will approve AARAC’s recommendations.

“There are so many efforts that result in incredible reports that just end up gathering dust on a shelf,” Peskin said. “We cannot let this be one of them.”

As King described in his “I Have a Dream” speech, America was founded by white men who wrote a fraudulent “check” that promised that all men would enjoy the “unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Click here to read the full article in the SF Chronicle

California Reparations Task Force Meets to Talk Eligibility

California’s committee to study reparations for African Americans was meeting in Oakland Wednesday to discuss what could be done to mitigate the generational harm of slavery and discrimination, and who would receive possible payments.

The first-in-the-nation task force previously voted to limit reparations to Black California residents whose ancestors were living in the United States in the 19th century. This week, the group will talk about whether there could be additional eligibility requirements and what time frame reparations could hinge on.

The nine-member group appointed by Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom and leaders of the Legislature were meeting in the City Hall of Oakland, birthplace of the Black Panthers. The San Francisco Bay Area city has a rich Black history but has shed its Black population as rising home prices forced people out.

The group will also discuss how the state may address its impact on Black families whose property was seized through eminent domain. The topic garnered renewed attention after lawmakers last year voted to return a beachfront property known as Bruce’s Beach to descendants of the Black residents who owned it until it was taken in the 20th century.

Kamilah Moore, the task force’s chair, doesn’t expect the group to come to any final decisions at this week’s two-day meeting.

“We’re still in the exploratory phase,” she said.

The task force has a July 1 deadline to complete its final report for the Legislature listing recommendations for how the state can address its legacy of discriminatory policies against Black Californians. The group’s work contrasts from similar efforts that have stalled in Congress.

Carroll Fife, an Oakland city council member, said at the start of Wednesday’s meeting that it’s time for public officials to “do right by Black folks.”

“This is the pressure that is needed to fight the fight that so many people who came before us tried to do,” she said.

Lawmakers in other parts of the country have pushed their states and cities to study reparations without much progress. But Evanston, Illinois, became the first U.S. city last year to make reparations available for Black residents, and public officials in New York will try anew to create a reparations commission in the state.

Officials from Oakland, Sacramento, Los Angeles and other California cities will talk about local reparations efforts during a panel Wednesday.

That will include Khansa T. Jones-Muhammad, vice-chair of Los Angeles’ Reparations Advisory Commission, who said the commission — created last year under then-Mayor Eric Garcetti — doesn’t have a date set in stone to complete its work.

The goal of the commission is to advise the city on a pilot program for distributing reparations to a group of Black residents.

“A lot of our first year has really just been laying the groundwork to have a strong commission,” she said.

In September, economists started listing preliminary estimates for what could be owed by the state as a result of discriminatory policies. But they said they need more data to come up with more complete figures.

Moore said the task force has not decided on any dollar amounts or what form reparations could take, but the public’s interest in those estimates shows optimism about the group’s work. The group hasn’t discussed where money for reparations could potentially come from.

About 30 people gathered Saturday at a Black-owned coffee shop in Sacramento for a reparations information session led by the Coalition for a Just and Equitable California, said Chris Lodgson, an organizer for the group.

The coalition is focused on advocating for reparations for Black residents. It has been supportive of reparations largely targeted at the descendants of enslaved African Americans.

“Generally speaking, Black folks can support other Black folks in the things that they want and need even if not everybody is benefitting equally from it or directly from it,” Lodgson said.

California Secretary of State Shirley Weber, a former assemblywoman, authored the bill that created the state’s task force, and the group began its work last year. The bill was signed into law in September 2020 after a summer of nationwide protests against racism and police brutality following the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by a white police officer in Minnesota.

Click here to read the full article in AP News

California Panel Sizes Up Reparations for Black Citizens

In the two years since nationwide social justice protests followed the murder of George Floyd, California has undertaken the nation’s most sweeping effort yet to explore some concrete restitution to Black citizens to address the enduring economic effects of slavery and racism.

A nine-member Reparations Task Force has spent months traveling across California to learn about the generational effects of racist policies and actions. The group, formed by legislation signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2020, is scheduled to release a report to lawmakers in Sacramento next year outlining recommendations for state-level reparations.

“We are looking at reparations on a scale that is the largest since Reconstruction,” said Jovan Scott Lewis, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who is a member of the task force.

While the creation of the task force is a bold first step, much remains unclear about whether lawmakers will ultimately throw their political weight behind reparations proposals that will require vast financial resources from the state.

“That is why we must put forward a robust plan, with plenty of options,” Dr. Lewis said.

The effort parallels others on a local level, in California and elsewhere, to address the nation’s stark racial disparities and a persistent wealth gap. The median wealth of Black households in the United States is $24,100, compared with $188,200 for white households, according to the most recent Federal Reserve Board Survey of Consumer Finances.

In a preliminary report this year, the task force outlined how enslaved Black people were forced to California during the Gold Rush era and how, in the 1950s and 1960s, racially restrictive covenants and redlining segregated Black Californians in many of the state’s largest cities.

Californians eligible for reparations, the task force decided in March, would be descendants of enslaved African Americans or of a “free Black person living in the United States prior to the end of the 19th century.” Nearly 6.5 percent of California residents, roughly 2.5 million, identify as Black or African American. The panel is now considering how reparations should be distributed — some favor tuition and housing grants while others want direct cash payments.

The task force has identified five areas — housing discrimination, mass incarceration, unjust property seizures, devaluation of Black businesses and health care — in discussions for compensation. For example, from 1933 to 1977, when it comes to housing discrimination, the task force estimates compensation of around $569 billion, with $223,200 per person.

Final figures will be released in the report next year; it would then be up to the Legislature to act upon the recommendations and determine how to fund them.

The state and local efforts have faced opposition over the potentially steep cost to taxpayers and, in one case, derided as an ill-conceived campaign to impose an “era of social justice.”

A two-day public meeting of the state task force this fall, in a makeshift hearing room tucked inside a Los Angeles museum, included a mix of comments from local residents on how they had been personally affected and how the disparities should be addressed, along with testimony from experts who have studied reparations.

While even broad-scale reparations would be unlikely to eliminate the racial wealth gap, they could narrow it significantly, and proponents hope California’s effort will influence other states and federal legislators to follow suit.

“Calling these local projects reparations is to some degree creating a detour from the central task of compelling the federal government to do its job,” said William A. Darity Jr., a professor at Duke University and a leading scholar on reparations. Even so, Dr. Darity, who is advising the California task force, said “there is an increasing recognition” that the lasting effects of slavery must be addressed.

Every year for almost three decades, Representative John Conyers Jr. of Michigan introduced legislation that would have created a commission to explore reparations, but the measure consistently stalled in Congress. After Mr. Conyers retired in 2017, Representative Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas began championing the measure, which passed a House committee for the first time last year, but stalled on the floor.

Underscoring the political hurdles, opinions on reparations are sharply divided by race. Last year, an online survey by the University of Massachusetts Amherst found that 86 percent of African Americans supported compensating the descendants of slaves, compared with 28 percent of white people. Other polls have also shown wide splits.

Still, several efforts have gotten off the ground recently.

In 2021, officials in Evanston, Ill., a Chicago suburb, approved $10 million in reparations in the form of housing grants. Three months later, officials in Asheville, N.C., committed $2.1 million to reparations. And over the summer, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a plan to transfer ownership of Bruce’s Beach — a parcel in Manhattan Beach that was seized with scant compensation from a Black couple in 1924 — to the couple’s great-grandsons and great-great-grandsons.

“We want to see the land and economic wealth stolen from Black families all across this country returned,” said Kavon Ward, an activist who advocated on behalf of the Bruces’ descendants and has since started a group, Where Is My Land, that seeks to help Black Americans secure restitution.“We are in a moment that we cannot let pass.”

A so-called blight law from 1945, the task force’s interim report explains, paved the way for officials to use eminent domain to destroy Black communities, including shuttering more than 800 businesses and displacing 4,700 households in San Francisco’s Western Addition beginning in the 1950s.

After work on Interstate 210 began later that decade, the report goes on, the freeway was eventually built in the path of a Black business district in Pasadena, where city officials offered residents $75,000 — less than the minimum cost to buy a new home in the city — for their old homes.

And there is Russell City, an unincorporated parcel of Alameda County near the San Francisco Bay shoreline where many Black families fleeing racial terror in the Deep South built lives during the Great Migration. Testimony to the task force by Russell City residents recounts the community’s rise and ultimate bulldozing.

Click here to read the full article at the NY Times

Reparations Task Force To Release First Report on Harms Made Against Black Californians

500 page report will documents wrongs made against African Americans from the pre-Civil War era to the present day

The California Reparations Task Force announced on Tuesday that a report will be released in the coming days that documents California’s history of harm against African Americans in the past, as well as helping prepare legislators in the coming years for a decision about what reparations, if any, slave descendent African Americans are to receive from the state.

According to Task Force Chair Kamilah Moore, while the report will acknowledge California’s status as a free state pre-Civil War, it will also cover how around 1,5000 enslaved African Americans lived in California until 1852. The 500 page report will also cover how the Ku Klux Klan was prevalent in California for many years, how many black families had been forced out of neighborhoods due to major civic projects, and how many areas of cities were segregated between races well until the 20th Century.

In addition, the report covers how these events are connected to recent statistics showing racial disparity. One figure found that despite just 6% of California identifying as African-American, 28% of all prison inmates are black, with 30% of all homeless people being black and 9% living below the poverty line being black as well.

While no plan of reparations was suggested, with that part due sometime next year, the task force is to recommend compensating those forced out of their homes due to urban renewal projects, as well as set up a state Office of African American or American Freedmen Affairs to help document and file possible claims. Other non-monetary suggestions, such as expansion of voter registration and more avenues to hold police accountable for racial incidents, will also be part of the report.

“I hope that this report is used not only as an educational tool, but an organizing tool for people not only in California but across the U.S. to educate their communities,” said Moore on Tuesday the day before the official report release. “The report also highlights contributions of the African American community and how they made the United States what it is despite ongoing oppression and degradation.”

The first draft report by the Task Force

The Task force, which has had a largely mixed reception since being signed into law in 2020, has largely split many Californians. Even reparations supporters have been split on how to proceed, with a narrow vote in March only accepting African Americans with direct slave lineage to get any possible reparations instead of all African Americans as many other supporters wanted and still insist on. Since then, reaction to the task force has only cooled further.

“The report is moving away from fairness it seems, which is what they had initially started all of this all with,” explained legal adviser Richard Weaver to the Globe on Tuesday. “The report comes out Wednesday, but right now a lot of what they are saying is just not affecting those descendants. The 1,500 who were enslaved in California in the 1850’s after California became a free state. Yeah, perfectly sound argument for reparations there, should not have happened. But they’re getting into the nitty gritty here with incidents and policies that, while unfortunate and should not have happened, happened past that descendants window the task force set up.”

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe