California becomes first state to officially consider reparations for slavery

cdavis@insider.com (Charles Davis)-Wed, September 30, 2020, 6:37 PM EDT

  • California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation on Wednesday creating a task force to study the issue of reparations for Black Americans.
  • “After watching last night’s debate, this signing can’t come too soon,” Newsom, a Democrat, said on a phone call.
  • A nine-member task force has one year to study the issue and report back.
  • “California tries to lead the way in terms of civil rights, and we have a responsibility to do that,” state Rep. Shirley Weber said on a press call. “But it has yet to come to terms with its role in slavery.”

California is the first state in the nation to consider reparations for those harmed by slavery and racial discrimination. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill on Wednesday that will create a task force to study the issue.

“After watching last night’s debate, this signing can’t come too soon,” Newsom, a Democrat, said on a phone call announcing the decision.

The legislation, Assembly Bill 3121, calls for a nine-member task force to document the historical and present effects of enslavement on African Americans and “recommend appropriate remedies.” Those recommendations, including the possibility of “full reparations,” will be presented in a report one year from now.

A majority of the task force’s members will be appointed by Newsom, and the rest will be chosen by California’s state legislature.

Though California formally entered the union as a “free state” in 1850, chattel slavery continued to exist in the state, with newspapers openly advertising the sale of enslaved people, according to the California Historical Society. State officials and citizens also enforced the federal Fugitive Slave Act, tracking down Black men and women who had escaped from the South.

State Rep. Shirley Weber, a Democrat from San Diego who sponsored the bill, said a reckoning was long overdue.

“California tries to lead the way in terms of civil rights, and we have a responsibility to do that,” Weber said on a press call. “But it has yet to come to terms with its role in slavery.”

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