California releases groundbreaking reparations report urging 'comprehensive’ compensation for Black Americans
California’s first-in-the-nation task force on reparations released an extensive report on Wednesday detailing the state’s role in 170 years of discrimination toward Black Americans, outlining how the lasting effects of slavery have produced “innumerable harms” that no level of government has addressed to date.
The exhaustive 500-page report documents how descendants of slavery in California, and more broadly in the U.S., have suffered compounding inequities through more than a dozen facets of life, including education, employment and housing, and offers recommendations to right those wrongs through systemic policy shifts and “comprehensive” financial compensation.
“In 1883, the Supreme Court interpreted the 13th Amendment as empowering Congress ‘to pass all laws necessary and proper for abolishing all badges and incidents of slavery in the United States,’” the report reads.
“However, throughout the rest of American history, instead of abolishing the ‘badges and incidents of slavery,’ the United States federal, state and local governments, including California, perpetuated and created new iterations of these ‘badges and incidents.’ The resulting harms have been innumerable and have snowballed over generations.”
The report, which is the first of its kind to be produced on the state level, urges the creation of a new statewide office that would provide a pathway for financial reparations for Black Americans, and pushes for expanded voter registration and the improvement of Black neighborhoods, among other recommendations. The document, however, stopped short of attaching a specific number to the reparations, mainly because it’s the first of two reports coming from the nine-member task force, with the second to be released some time next year.
“I’m hoping that this report is used as an education tool and an organizing tool, educating the state of California and the United States at large about the harms against the African American community and the contributions of the African American community in the United States,” said Kamilah Moore, chair of the task force. “This report is documenting the full corpus of evidence around the harms against the African American community, which will substantiate the claims for reparations in the final report.”
Members of the task force claim this is the first government-commissioned study on harm against Black Americans since the 1968 Kerner Commission report, which was ordered by then-President Lyndon Johnson.
The findings come at a time of increased fervor around the topic of reparations — just last month more than 25 social justice organizations penned a letter to President Biden urging him “to study and develop reparations proposals for African Americans” by Juneteenth, or June 19, the anniversary of the day in 1865 that African Americans returned in Galveston, Texas, to news that they were freed. Last March, Evanston, Ill., became the first city in the country to approve reparations for Black residents.
Advocates for reparations believe the only way Black Americans will see any kind of financial compensation will be through policy and politics.
“This has to be a political campaign on top of a matter of policy and any sort of moral argument,” James Lance Taylor, a political science professor at the University of San Francisco and a member of that city's reparations task force, told the Washington Post. “Anything in favor of expanding rights to Black people has always been negatively received. The odds are always against us, but we are further along than we’ve ever been.”
"The depth, breadth and scope of the report is astounding," task force member Lisa Holder told USA Today. "We are evaluating racism beginning in 1619 and going all the way to the present … and connecting (past) injustices to injustice that we are seeing today."
California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, signed legislation to create the task force in 2020, becoming the only state to move forward with a reparations study at this scale. Following Wednesday’s report, the panel will now pivot to creating a detailed proposal for reparations for the state legislature to consider. In March, the group voted 5-4 to limit cash reparations only to people who can prove that they are descended from enslaved and free Black Americans who were in the country before the end of the 19th century.
“The harm against the African American community has been so extensive that reparations are pretty much overdue,” Moore said.
Cover thumbnail photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images