The common story about slavery in the United States is that enslaved black people only… forced to work on the vast cotton fields and sugar plantations of the South – and that only the South built its economy on the institution.
But these stories ignore the experiences of thousands of enslaved African Americans, including those transported west to California in the mid-1800s. The California Reparations Task Force, created by Governor Gavin Newsom in the wake of the 2020 murder of George Floyd, evokes this history while also calling for restorative justice.
The task force — a body of nine appointed individuals responsible for studying what a recovery program would look like for the state — launched its efforts in 2021 and released a comprehensive mid-term release in June 2022. report that explores the state’s history of slavery and the oppression of black Californians since the state was founded in 1850.
The report found that while the 13th Amendment allowed Congress to remove “all badges and incidents of slavery in the United States,” California sustained new repeats of harm that “were countless and snowballed for generations.” “.
The report is the most thorough government-issued report on racing since the Kerner commission of 1968, which found that racism sparked the riots of the late 1960s, Kamilah Moore, the commission’s chairman, told cafemadrid. “I hope people use this report as an educational and organizing tool,” she said.
It describes that, in addition to the original damage of slavery and racial terror, the US and California governments engaged in political disenfranchisement against black people instituted housing segregation and segregated and unequal education, and that racism affected the development of state infrastructure, causing environmental injustice. The report also pointed out that federal and state governments have made it more difficult for black families to stay together, with black children being overrepresented in child welfare and juvenile justice systems; prevented black Americans from getting employment opportunities; and made it harder for black Americans to build wealth.
The racial wealth gap in California has been underexposed, but a few studies in Los Angeles show the inequality. A 2016 study found that the median net worth of white Angeleno households was $355,000 while that of native Black Angelenos was $4,000. The same study found that the median value of cash for black households was $200, compared to $110,000 for white households.
The Reparations Task Force report substantiates the claim for reparations at the state and federal levels. But the committee still has big questions to investigate. Mainly: what would reparations look like? And could California afford the cost?
California’s History of Terror Easily Calls for Reparations
While there was a move to counter the western expansion of slavery, California’s history at the institution had long-lasting effects, the report authors emphasized.
California’s early legislatures tolerated slavery, and by 1852 an estimated 1,500 enslaved black people lived in California, according to the report. This was the case despite California joining the Union as a free state in 1850. Slave smugglers mainly trafficked young men and teenage boys to work in gold mines during the state’s gold rush.
The state passed a law on fugitive slaves in 1852, making it “a more slave-era state than most other free states,” the report said. The law required state officials to help capture slaves of enslaved people who had fled to free states, punish people who tried to help freedom seekers, and limit the enslaved person’s ability to defend themselves in court. From 1852 to 1855, anyone accused of being a runaway slave could be returned to slavery in the South, even if they had lived in the free state of California since 1850.
And while the federal government abolished slavery in the Reconstruction Era and ensured equal protection of the laws and voting rights, California was slow to sign those reforms. It did not ratify the Fourteenth Amendment until 1959 and the Fifteenth Amendment in 1962.
This early history had lingering negative effects on California life that are still felt today. In the early 1900s, the state sometimes hosted more Ku Klux Klan events than Mississippi or Louisiana, with Californian KKK members holding top positions in government and law enforcement, the report said.
Racial animus informed decisions by lawmakers on housing, development, education and family life. The government created segregation through redlining, zoning, and discriminatory mortgage practices. Black people were sometimes banned from living in entire areas and cities, such as the suburbs outside of San Francisco and Los Angeles, because of the restrictions of the sundown town.
White neighborhoods have thrived while blacks have languished since the government actively razed black areas for alleged “urban regeneration” and “parking,” the report said. This segregation was also part of school life, as the state Supreme Court ruled in 1874 that segregation in public schools was legal. A century later, efforts to desegregate schools across the state repeatedly failed — and today California is the sixth most segregated state for black students, according to a survey cited in the report.
Inequality is also evident in other areas of California life today, such as the disproportionate representation of black children in foster care or the high representation of black Californians in the state’s justice system due to the tendency of law enforcement to stop them and to arrest.
“California has this history and the formal plan we recommend to the governor will reflect the kind of terror black people in California had to endure,” Moore told cafemadrid.
Can California Pay the Bill?
The report makes dozens of preliminary recommendations to address the glaring inequalities it maps.
For example, to end legal slavery in California, the task force recommends that the state remove specific language in the constitution that allows involuntary servitude as punishment for crimes. To address racial terror, the report suggests the state holds law enforcement officers accountable for violence by eliminating the state’s immunities that protect misconduct. To remedy environmental racism, the authors advocate plans to address unequal exposure to pollutants. And to address unequal education, the task force wants the state to support black students with scholarships.
While the recommendations are extensive, the task force has yet to propose cash payments to black Californians, a pillar of restorative justice that proponents say could make the most sense for residents. At the federal level, economists estimate that reparations could cost the federal government about € $10 trillion to $12 trillionor about $800,000 for each eligible black household.
But the task force isn’t ruling it out. The report is an interim report, and members plan to have more discussions and research before it has to submit its final report to Governor Newsom. Moore noted that cash reparations are not out of the question, especially with state estimates $97.5 Billion State Budget Surplus†
“California has the budget to make reparations in the form of cash payments, and the surplus is even further proof that it has the budget,” Moore said.
As of 2020, 39.5 million people live in California, with 2.8 million, or about 6 percent, identifying as black. The task force voted that only black Californians who can prove their direct descent from enslaved ancestors are eligible for state reparations. Moore says the figure would fall within the state budget.
Others have argued that cash payments should be made as reparations if they are to close the racial wealth gap in a way that offsets the government’s exclusion of black Americans from programs such as Social Security and the GI Act.
According to Moore, the task force will consider all of these factors during the next phase.
“We still have a lot to think about,” Moore said. “The final reparations plan will cover payment for rehabilitation, social services, medical services, stolen wealth, satisfaction and a formal apology.”