SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The slavery redress movement reached a watershed Wednesday with the release of a comprehensive report detailing California’s role in perpetuating discrimination against African Americans, a major step toward educating the public and preparing the ground for official government apologies and financial restitution cases.
The 500-page document describes the harm suffered by the descendants of slaves even today, long after the abolition of slavery in the 19th century, by discriminatory laws and actions in all aspects of life, housing and from education to employment and the legal system.
Justin Hansford, a longtime reparations advocate, Howard University law professor and director of the Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center in Washington, called the moment exciting and monumental.
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“Having an official detail of these stories coming from the state is important,” he said. “I know a lot of people say we don’t need to keep studying, but the reality is that until it comes from a source that people think is objective, then it’s going to be harder to convince everyone of some of the inequalities described.”
The report comes at a time when school boards and states across the United States are banning books or restricting what can be taught in classrooms, with parents and lawmakers widely opposed to topics of sexuality, gender identity, gender or race. State lawmakers have tried to ban schools from teaching The New York Times’ “1619 Project,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning report that reframes American history with slaves at its heart.
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California is heading in the opposite direction, said Adam Laats, a historian at Binghamton University, who called the document remarkable in its unwavering narrative, including detailing how police officers and Los Angeles district attorneys there a century were members of or had ties to the Ku Klux Klan.
“Who children should learn are the main players in the history of us as a nation has always been a real lightning rod,” he said.
Governor Gavin Newsom signed legislation creating the two-year task force in 2020, making California the only state to move forward with a study and plan. Cities and universities have embraced the cause, with the Chicago suburb of Evanston, Illinois last year becoming the first city to offer reparations to black residents.
On Wednesday, Newsom released a statement commending California for leading the country in a long-awaited discussion on racial justice and equity. State Attorney General Rob Bonta, whose office is assisting the task force, said, “California has not been a passive player in perpetuating these harms.”
A similar effort is underway to delve into what Newsom called the dark history of Native American violence, abuse and neglect in California. The Truth and Healing Council’s report, due in 2025, could include recommendations for reparations. Many tribes across the country have sought to acquire their ancestral lands and co-manage public lands.
The African American Reparations Task Force, which began meeting in June 2021, will release a full reparations plan next year. The committee voted in March to limit reparations to descendants of African Americans living in the United States in the 19th century, overruling supporters who wanted to extend compensation to all black people in the United States.
“Four hundred years of discrimination have resulted in a huge and persistent wealth gap between black and white Americans,” says the report from the California task force to study and develop redress proposals for African Americans.
“These effects of slavery continue to be entrenched in American society today and have never been sufficiently addressed. The governments of the United States and the State of California have never presented apologize or compensate African Americans for these harms.
California is home to the fifth largest black population in the United States, after Texas, Florida, Georgia and New York, according to the report. An estimated 2.8 million black people live in California, though it’s unclear how many are eligible for direct compensation.
African Americans make up less than 6% of California’s population, but they are overrepresented in prisons, youth detention centers and prisons. About 28% of those imprisoned in California are black, and in 2019, 36% of minors sentenced to juvenile detention centers were African Americans, according to the report.
Black Californians earn less and are more likely to be poor than white residents. In 2018, black residents earned an average of just under $54,000, compared to $87,000 for white Californians.
“We don’t own homes and if you look at why there’s such a huge disparity between African Americans and white Americans and our ability to keep and maintain wealth, it’s because we don’t own homes. “said Assemblyman Reggie Jones. Sawyer, member of the task force.
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The task force’s initial sweeping recommendations include reforms to the prison system. Prisoners should not be forced to work and if they do, they should be paid fair market wages. Prisoners should also be allowed to vote and those convicted of crimes should serve on juries.
The group recommends creating a state-subsidized mortgage program to guarantee low rates for eligible African-American applicants, free health care, free tuition at California colleges and universities, and scholarships for graduates. high school African Americans to cover four years of undergraduate education.
The committee is also seeking a cabinet-level position to oversee an African American affairs agency with branches for civic engagement, education, social services, cultural affairs, and legal affairs. This would help people research and document their lineage to a 19th century ancestor so they can claim financial restitution.
Those opposed to paying reparations argue that California did not have Jim Crow-era plantations or laws like the South.
But the interim report explains how California, despite being “free,” has perpetuated damage that has worsened over generations.
See: Reparations are a ‘human rights issue’ that will boost economy, says California task force chair
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He noted that Missouri native Basil Campbell was bought for $1,200 and forced to move to Yolo County, California in 1854, leaving behind his wife and two sons. Campbell eventually paid his purchase price, married, and became a landowner.
But when his sons demanded part of his estate after his death, a California judge ruled that marriage between two slaves “is not a marital relationship”.
More recently, he said, Paul Austin and Tenisha Tate-Austin’s home was valued at a much lower price because it was located in a predominantly black part of Marin County, where African Americans have been forced to live from World War II.
The report should offer other cities and states — and ultimately the federal government — a blueprint for seeking reparations, members said. Over the next year, the task force will undertake the difficult task of developing an apology and creating a remedial plan to compensate and stop the harm.
“The big question is: what are they going to do with it? The danger here is that everyone reads it and nods and waits for the task force to launch the response,” said Hansford, the law professor. “We need to have universities, local governments, businesses and others working together to do their part to address the recommendations offered in the report.”
Read more (April 2021): US House panel proposes bill to create slavery reparations commission