California Repair Efforts Move Forward: What’s Next

The California Reparations Task Force voted on Tuesday to define those eligible for reparations as descendants of African Americans enslaved in the United States or free blacks living in the country before the end of the 19th century.

Much of the discussion among task force members focused on the differing interpretations of the law of the state that created the panel and whether all black Californians should receive some form of redress. due to the lasting effects of slavery and the discrimination that continued long after abolition. After hours of tense debate, the group voted to tie the reparations to the lineage.

“This action is about reparations for those harmed by chattel slavery in this country,” said Reverend Amos Brown, a civil rights leader and vice president of the task force.

The government-appointed panel has taken steps to define who should be eligible to receive reparations nearly 10 months after the start of a two-year process to develop a proposal to address slavery and discrimination.

After hearing from nearly a dozen experts in genealogy and other aspects of the reparations movement, the panel voted 5-4 in favor of the lineage-based approach. The vote marks an important milestone for the task force, but many more difficult questions lie ahead.

Who is entitled to reparations?

The motion that narrowly passed defines “community eligibility based on lineage determined by an individual being an African American descendant of a chattel slave or the descendant of a free black person living in the United States before the late 19th century. ”

Why did the task force choose to limit eligibility in this way?

Governor Gavin Newsom and legislative leaders appointed the task force — which includes elected officials, civil rights leaders, lawyers and reparations experts — with a mission to “study and develop reparations proposals for African Americans, with special consideration for African Americans who are descendants of enslaved people in the United States. Secretary of State Shirley Weber, who authored the legislation Newsom signed in 2020 to launch the effort, stressed in January that providing reparations is “a matter of descent and lineage.”

A slim majority of the task force interpreted this language and Weber’s statements to mean that reparations should be lineage-based and go strictly to those who can trace their ancestry to the era of slavery. But the decision was not unanimous.

State law also directs the task force to examine the continuing negative effects of the institution of slavery and discrimination on living African Americans and on society in California and the United States. Several members argued unsuccessfully that the provision meant that reparations would also have to be offered to all black Californians, a population the task force estimates at 2.6 million.

What bar must be filled to prove eligibility?

The task force has yet to adopt rules on how someone would prove their lineage in order to qualify for reparations.

Several genealogy experts have raised concerns that some descendants may not be able to prove their ancestral connections because the names of enslaved African Americans have changed, some records do not exist, or have been destroyed or details changed in the stories passed down from generation to generation. .

Genealogist Kellie Farrish told the task force that proving the lineage of any African American who lived in the United States before 1900 might be enough because so few were allowed to enter the country voluntarily from Africa or the Caribbean before that time. .

“Therefore, tracing an ancestor to the early 1900s living anywhere in the country would prove descent from American slavery, since the only Africans who were here were those brought involuntarily, if they were unable to identify a ancestor enslaved by name,” she said.

What reparations will eligible African Americans receive?

It’s still undecided. The task force isn’t expected to produce a detailed proposal outlining specific recommendations for repairs until July 2023. Then, the California legislature must adopt those recommendations in a new law approved by the governor to go into effect.

And after?

The task force meets again Wednesday at 9 a.m. to hear expert testimony on the “criminal justice system and anti-black bias.” Some of this testimony will appear in the task force’s first report, which is expected to be released on June 1 and will include findings to help prove the existence of state-sanctioned racism rooted in pre-slavery and after emancipation until today.

Los Angeles Times

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