The 500-page document exposes the harms suffered by the descendants of slaves long after the abolition of slavery in the 19th century, through discriminatory laws and actions in all aspects of life, housing and employment and legal system education.
“Four hundred years of discrimination have resulted in a huge 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 entrenched in American society today and have never been sufficiently addressed. The governments of the United States and the State of California have never apologized or compensated African Americans for these harms.
Governor Gavin Newsom signed legislation creating the two-year task force in 2020, making California the only state to move forward with a study and plan. Cities and universities are stepping up for the cause, with the Chicago suburb of Evanston, Illinois becoming the first US city to offer reparations to black residents last year.
Members of the task force began meeting in June 2021 and will release a full repairs plan next year. The committee voted in March to limit reparations to descendants of black people who lived in the United States in the 19th century, overruling reparations advocates who want to extend compensation to all black people in the United States.
California is home to the fifth largest black population in the United States, after Texas, Florida, Georgia and New York, according to the report. According to the report, approximately 2.8 million black people live in California.
African Americans make up nearly 6% of California’s population, but they are overrepresented in prisons, youth detention centers and prisons. About 28% of those imprisoned in California are black, and in 2019, young African Americans made up 36% of minors sentenced to juvenile detention centers.
Nearly 9% of people living below the poverty line in the state were African American, and 30% of those homeless in 2019 were black, according to state figures.
Black Californians earn less and are more likely to be poor than white residents. In 2018, black residents earned just under $54,000 on average, compared to $87,000 for white Californians. In 2019, 59% of white households owned their homes, compared to 35% of black Californians.
The task force makes sweeping initial recommendations, including within the prison system: Prisoners should not be forced to work while incarcerated and, if they do, they must be paid a fair market wage. Prisoners should also be allowed to vote and those convicted of crimes should serve on juries, according to the report.
The group recommends creating a state-subsidized mortgage program to guarantee low rates for eligible African-American applicants, free health care, free tuition at California colleges and universities, and scholarships for graduates. high school African Americans to cover four years of undergraduate education.
The committee is also seeking a cabinet-level secretary position to oversee an African American affairs agency with branches for civic engagement, education, social services, cultural affairs, and legal affairs. This would help people research and document their lineage to a 19th century ancestor so they can claim financial restitution.
The black population grew significantly in California during World War II as people emigrated from southern states for war-related work. California’s black population grew from 124,000 in 1940 to over 1.4 million in 1970.
Although California was a “free” state, the Ku Klux Klan flourished, 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.
Missouri native Basil Campbell, for example, was bought for $1,200 and forced to move to Yolo County in 1854, leaving behind his wife and two sons. Campbell eventually paid his purchase price, married, and became a landowner. When his sons demanded part of his estate after his death, a California judge ruled that marriage between two slaves “is not a marital relationship”.
In 1958, a black teacher, Alfred Simmons, rented a house from a white person in the all-white neighborhood of Elmwood in Berkeley. Berkeley’s police chief complained to the FBI and the Federal Housing Administration wrote to tell the white landlord that future mortgage applications would be denied because renting to a black person was an “unsatisfactory risk determination,” according to the report.
More recently, Paul Austin and Tenisha Tate-Austin’s home was valued at a much lower price because it was located in a predominantly black part of Marin County, where African Americans were forced to live from the Second World War.
“California has not been a passive player in perpetuating these harms,” California Attorney General Rob Bonta said. “This interim report is a historic step by the State of California to recognize the insidious effects of slavery and ongoing systemic discrimination, acknowledge state failures, and move toward redressing harm.”
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