California releases landmark report on slave reparations

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SAN FRANCISCO — California’s first nation’s task force on reparations for African Americans will release a report Wednesday detailing the damage the state is causing and recommending steps to address these injustices, including expanded voter registration that will make it easier to stop violent police accountable and improving black neighborhoods.

It also recommends the establishment of a special bureau that would help, in part, African Americans descended from free or enslaved blacks in the country in the late 19th century to document their eligibility for monetary compensation.

The 500-page report will be the first government-commissioned study of harm to the African-American community since the 1968 Kerner Commission report commissioned by then-President Lyndon Johnson, the task force chair said, Kamila Moore.

“I hope this report will be used not just as an educational tool, but as an organizing tool for people not just in California but across the US to educate their communities,” she said, adding that the report also includes “contributions from the African American highlights community and how they have made the United States what it is despite continued oppression and degradation.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation creating the task force in 2020, making California the only state to advance a study and plan. Cities and universities are taking action because Evanston, Illinois, a Chicago suburb, last year became the first US city to provide reparations to black residents.

The task force voted in March to limit reparations to descendants, defeating reparations advocates who want to extend reparations to all black people in the US

The report, scheduled for release by the state Justice Department, marks the midpoint of the task force’s two-year work. The draft report does not include a comprehensive remediation plan due to go to lawmakers over the next year.

The report seeks to detail how California supported slavery before it was technically abolished and black residents oppressed by discriminatory laws and practices in education, home ownership, employment and the courts.

African Americans make up nearly 6% of California’s population but are overrepresented in prisons and jails. According to government figures, they accounted for almost 9% of people living below the poverty line and made up 30% of people affected by homelessness in 2019.

Despite being a “free” state, according to the 1852 draft report, there were an estimated 1,500 enslaved African Americans living in California. The Ku Klux Klan thrived in California with members holding positions in law enforcement and city government. African American families were forced to live in segregated neighborhoods that were more likely to be polluted.

Moore said a state Office of African American Affairs or Released African Americans could help file claims and trace their ancestry to demonstrate eligibility for an individual refund.

The task force also recommends in its draft report compensating people who have been evicted from their homes for construction projects like parks and freeways and general renovations, as was the case in San Francisco’s historically black and once-thriving Fillmore neighborhood.

“Other groups who have suffered marginalization, oppression and outright destruction of human existence have received reparations, and we should get no less,” said Rev. Amos Brown, vice chairman of the committee and pastor of Third Baptist Church in Fillmore County.

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