Blacks in California hope state reparations don’t break promises again


SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — San Francisco resident Pia Harris hopes to get reparations in her lifetime. But the director of the nonprofit program said he was confident the California legislature would turn the recommendations of the nation’s first task force into concrete legislation, given the backlash from opponents who said slavery was a thing of the past. I do not have.

Harris, 45, is frustrated by the refusal of reparation opponents to acknowledge that the abolition of chattel slavery in 1865 did not improve the lives of blacks. Black families are unable to accumulate wealth through property ownership and higher education. Black boys and teens are still being told to be careful by law enforcement, and black businesses are struggling to get financing, he said.

“I want people to stop acting like they’re out of touch with reality, and that’s not happening today,” Harris said of the lingering effects of slavery and discrimination. “I want them to understand that we as a community are still having difficulties. No, it’s not over for us.”

Black people in California have been watching closely as the state’s reparations task force navigates its two-year investigation, but finally ends this month It’s on a huge list of recommendations to be submitted to lawmakers.uncertain What do legislators do with proposals?This includes payments to the descendants of enslaved people and a formal apology from the state.

The Associated Press interviewed a small number of black advocates and residents who follow the Task Force’s work, as well as those who have long been involved in the reparations dialogue. Activists and young entrepreneurs who fought for civil rights in the 1960s also expressed common concerns. They hope the search for reparations in California won’t be another example of the government giving false hope.

Reparations proposals for African Americans date back to 1865, when Union General William Tecumseh Sherman ordered the newly freed to give up to 40 acres (16 ha) of land. That didn’t happen. For decades, Democrats in Congress have tried, to no avail, to pass legislation that would consider federal reparations.

In 2020, California became the first state to approve the establishment of a Reparations Task Force to study the state’s role in perpetuating systemic racism and find ways of redress. According to the Task Force’s draft report, California joined the Confederation as a “free” state, but had not enacted legislation to guarantee the freedom of African Americans.

situation Expected to face a $31.5 billion budget shortfallThis provides legislative support for some of the task force’s more ambitious recommendations, such as direct payments to eligible residents and the creation of a new state agency to help families research their ancestry and file claims. less likely to be

The task force did not recommend a specific payment amount, but economists estimate decades of over-policing, mass incarceration and preventing black families from buying homes in high-value neighborhoods. The state is responsible for more than $500 billion due to redlining.

Damian Posey, 44, grew up in a historically black neighborhood in San Francisco, heard gunshots at night and bussed black kids to schools in neighborhoods that weren’t very welcoming. He spent 10 years in prison for weapons charges before founding Us 4 Us Bay Area, a nonprofit that mentors youth and reduces gun violence.

Meaningful reparations include a public apology by the state, public funding of nonprofits that help black people, and cash reparations for all those who were denied payment to the ancestors who built this country with their labor. , he said.

“And honestly, our people deserve it,” he said.

Les Robinson, 66, associate pastor of Sanctuary Foursquare Church in Santa Clarita, has a population of about 30. He said Americans were an important part of the national reparations plan because they had been “robbed of so much money” by discriminatory policies. He is 48 kilometers (miles) north of Los Angeles.

But money isn’t everything, Robinson said, and the task force’s other important work shouldn’t be lost by sticking to dollar figures alone. He pointed to efforts to retell California’s history in a different light, looking at the state’s role in perpetuating systemic racism despite its label as a “free” state.

When Robinson learned in 2017 that she was the descendant of the man who founded California’s first black church and played a key role in the state’s pioneering African-American community, she said she experienced a “tsunami of emotions. was attacked by

He told many, including himself, the story of his great-great-grandfather, Daniel Blue, who founded the historic church known as the historic St. Andrews African Methodist Episcopal Church in Sacramento. I was disappointed.

Robinson is skeptical that reparations will be approved by lawmakers if history shows.

“People wonder why all African Americans are mad,” he says. “Because we have been deceived. We have been deceived. For centuries, not decades.”

Like Robinson, former Black Panther Joan Talika Lewis is researching her lineage, and several of her ancestors came to California in the mid-19th century to help other blacks escape slavery. I was proud to have discovered

Joining the party as a teenager and becoming the party’s first female activist, Lewis worked to educate more black residents about their heritage and educate all Californians about the contributions of black pioneers and civic leaders. I would like to know more. Lewis, 73, also said she wants to raise more awareness of what her community has lost.

Her father ran a boxing gym in West Oakland that served as a community space for young people to learn from their elders. But then government officials took over the land and built a highway and a commuter line in its place. The family was paid a pittance for land that would later become a prized asset in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Mr. Lewis is optimistic that reparations can be made if legislators have the political will.

So does Vincent Justin, a 75-year-old former bus driver from Richmond who has fought for racial equality for decades. He marched in his 1960s with Martin Luther King His Jr., Huey P. Newton, Stokely Carmichael, and other leading civil rights activists.

The battle will be long, but we hope that one day reparations will be approved at the federal level.

“I think it will come to a fair and just ending,” he said.


Ha reported from San Francisco. Sophie Austin is a member of the Associated Press / Report for America Legislative News Initiative. Report for America is a non-profit national service program that sends journalists to local newsrooms to report on cover-up issues. Follow Austin on Twitter: @ Sophia Danna