California advances reparations for slavery

The California Senate on Tuesday approved three reparations bills that aim to atone for the state’s legacy of slavery and discrimination against African Americans.

They include one that would create the California Freedmen’s Affairs Agency to help black families research their ancestry and confirm their eligibility for any future state-approved restitution.

The other bills would create a fund for reparations programs and compensate Black families for property the government unfairly seized from them through eminent domain. The proposals now head to the state Assembly.

The three bills are part of a package of more than a dozen proposals introduced by the California Legislative Black Caucus earlier this year, after the California Reparations Task Force sent a report to the lawmakers with recommendations after spending two years studying how the state could atone for its legacy of racism and discrimination against African Americans.

State Sen. Steven Bradford, a Democrat who authored the bills and served on the task force, said California “bears a heavy responsibility” for the “serious injustices” against black Californians.

The creation of the new agency “is the first step California can take to right these wrongs,” he said.

“If you can inherit generational wealth, you can inherit generational debt,” Bradford said. “Reparations are a debt owed to the descendants of slavery. It is not a gift or charity under any circumstances. It is what was promised, it is what is owed and what is owed with 160 years of delay”.

Bradford has been contacted for further comment via a contact form on its website.

People march during a June 16 reparations demonstration.
People march during a Juneteenth reparations rally in Newark, New Jersey, on June 17, 2022. The California Senate on Tuesday passed three reparations bills that aim to atone for slavery and past discrimination.

Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

New York and Illinois have created commissions tasked with considering reparation proposals, but none have moved as far as California in their efforts. The Chicago suburb of Evanston, Illinois, became the first city to offer reparations to some Black residents in 2021, to atone for past discriminatory housing policies.

At the federal level, a proposal to create a commission to study reparations has languished in Congress for more than three decades.

Some California lawmakers who oppose reparations have said more is promised than can be delivered because of the state’s multibillion-dollar budget deficit.

“It seems to me that they’re putting the cart before the horse, first of all,” said Republican Assembly member Bill Essayli, according to The Associated Press. “They are creating these agencies and frameworks to grant reparations without approving any reparations.”

The bills’ passage Tuesday comes after the Senate Appropriations Committee blocked bills that would have provided property taxes and financial assistance to descendants of enslaved people. Bradford said that was largely due to state budget issues.

But on Thursday the California Assembly voted to advance a bill that would issue an official apology for the state’s role in slavery and discrimination against black Californians.

The Coalition for a Just and Equitable California, which advocates for reparations, said on social media before Tuesday’s votes that the three bills “lay the groundwork for full reparations, including the return by the state of California of the stolen wealth and income, as well as the provision of new opportunities to build, thrive and thrive as a community of residents descended from those brave American souls who overcame slavery in the US.

“We are closer to Reparations than ever. And thanks to the hard work and commitment of countless individuals, families and organizations from all walks of life, we are closer every day.”