SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — UPDATE (12:13 PM): The reparations movement hit a watershed moment Wednesday with the release of an exhaustive report detailing California’s role in perpetuating discrimination against African Americans, a major step toward educating the public and setting the stage for an official government apology and case for financial reparations.
The 500-page document lays out the harms suffered by descendants of enslaved people long after slavery was abolished in the 19th century, through discriminatory laws and actions in all facets of life, from housing and education to employment and the legal system.
“Four hundred years of discrimination has resulted in an enormous and persistent wealth gap between Black and white Americans,” according to the interim report of the California Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans.
“As the following chapters will show, these effects of slavery continue to be embedded in American society today and have never been sufficiently remedied. The governments of the United States and the State of California have never apologized to or compensated African Americans for these harms.”
California’s first-in-the-nation task force on reparations for African Americans will release a report Wednesday documenting in detail the harm perpetrated by the state and recommending steps to address those wrongs, including expanded voter registration, making it easier to hold violent police accountable and improving Black neighborhoods.
It also recommends the creation of a special office that would, in part, help African Americans descended from free or enslaved Black people in the country at the end of the 19th century document their eligibility for financial restitution.
The 500-page report is the first government-commissioned study on harm against the African American community since the 1968 Kerner Commission report ordered by then-President Lyndon Johnson, task force Chair Kamilah Moore said.
“I hope that this report is used not only as an educational tool, but an organizing tool for people not only in California but across the U.S. to educate their communities,” she said, adding that the report also highlights “contributions of the African American community and how they made the United States what it is despite ongoing oppression and degradation.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation creating the task force in 2020, making California the only state to move ahead with a study and plan. Cities and universities are taking up the cause with the Chicago suburb of Evanston, Illinois, becoming the first U.S. city to make reparations available to Black residents last year.
The task force voted in March to limit reparations to descendants, overruling reparations advocates who want to expand compensation to all Black people in the U.S.
The report, to be released by the state Department of Justice, marks the halfway point for the two-year task force's work. The draft report does not provide a comprehensive reparations plan, which is due to lawmakers next year.
The report is expected to lay out how California supported slavery before it was technically abolished and oppressed Black residents through discriminatory laws and practices in education, home ownership, employment and the courts.
African Americans make up nearly 6% of California's population yet they are overrepresented in jails and prisons. They were nearly 9% of people living below the poverty level and made up 30% of people experiencing homelessness in 2019, according to state figures.
Despite it being a “free” state, an estimated 1,500 enslaved African Americans lived in California in 1852, according to the draft report. The Ku Klux Klan flourished 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 that a state Office of African American or American Freedmen Affairs could help African American residents file claims and trace their lineage to prove eligibility for individual restitution.
The draft report also recommends compensating people who were forced out of their homes for construction projects such as parks and highways and general renewal, as happened to San Francisco's historically Black and once-thriving Fillmore neighborhood.
“Other groups that have suffered exclusion, oppression, and downright destruction of human existence have received reparations, and we should have no less," said the Rev. Amos Brown, the committee's vice chair and pastor of Third Baptist Church in the Fillmore District.