A task force established by California Governor Gavin Newsom has concluded that the state owes each of its Black residents up to $1.25 million as compensation for America’s history of slavery. California is home to 2.25 million Black Americans, a figure that puts the total value of a state reparations bill above $2.8 trillion.
On Saturday the California Reparations Task Force recommended that the governor issue a formal apology for its role in enforcing runaway slave laws during the 19th century, though California was admitted to the Union as a free state in 1850. The panel, voting at a public meeting in Oakland, noted the lasting effects of discrimination, mass incarceration, and housing policies and the need for today’s elected officials to right wrongs of the past.
The Los Angeles Times shared additional details of the proposal, including:
- Compensation for health disparities: $13,619 for each year of residency. This figure was derived by comparing life expectancy between Black non-Hispanic and white non-Hispanic Californians.
- Compensation for mass incarceration and over-policing of African Americans: $2,352 for each year of residency in California during the war on drugs from 1971 to 2020.
- Compensation for housing discrimination: $3,366 for each year between 1933 and 1977 spent as a resident of the state of California.
Whether or not the panel’s recommendations will be adopted in California’s latest budget remains an open question. The state reported a $22.5 billion deficit in 2022 after spending nearly $300 billion on a vast infrastructure package supported by Governor Newsom. The chair of the Reparations Task Force has backed higher taxes on the state’s wealthiest residents as a way to afford to panel’s recommendations, which members have called “conservative.”
Although born a free state, California did not explicitly ban keeping an enslaved person and later passed the Fugitive Slave Law of 1852 which allowed for violence if necessary to capture slaves who fled their homesteads. The state also experienced an influx of Southern whites, some of whom held seats in the Legislature.
How Black residents go about showing proof of enslaved ancestors remains a challenge. The task force recommended that California fund a new American Freedman Affairs Agency dedicated to helping Black residents trace their lineages in order to determine if they would be eligible for reparations. The agency should include a “genealogy branch to support potential reparations claimants by providing access to expert genealogical research to confirm reparations eligibility,” according to the group’s report.