On Jan. 31 California’s Legislative Black Caucus introduced a slate of reparations bills for Black Californians. This first-in-the-nation reparations package brings California one step closer to fulfilling the long-awaited promise of restitution for Black Americans affected by slavery and centuries of racism.
In recent years, California has championed the effort to turn reparations into law. In 2023, California’s reparations task force issued a 1,100-page final report to the legislature. The task force conducted two years of research on the generational damage of slavery and discriminatory practices, and ultimately developed a comprehensive reparations plan. The report included more than 200 recommendations to address the unfair treatment of Black Californians and descendants of enslaved people. It also recommended that California formally apologize for its role in enabling slavery and Jim Crow laws.
The report reignited the hopes of reparations advocates, and paved the way for Black lawmakers in California to introduce the “2024 Reparations Priority Bill Package.” In a recent press conference, State Sen. Steven Bradford, who was also a member of the nine-person reparations task force, said the journey to restitution will be long but worthwhile. “This is a defining moment not only in California history, but in American history as well,” Bradford said.
The package includes 14 proposals that address education, civil rights and criminal justice. If approved, the proposals would provide potential compensation for property seized from Black owners, fund community solutions towards violence in Black neighborhoods and expand access to career technical education. Notably, the package does not include monetary compensation for the descendants of slaves, which is traditionally included in reparations.
Assembly member Loris Wilson, chair of the Black Caucus, said in a statement, “While many only associate direct cash payments with reparations, the true meaning of the word, to repair, involves much more…We need a comprehensive approach to dismantling the legacy of slavery and systemic racism.”
The 14 proposals have drawn criticism from those who think they go too far, and those who don’t think they go far enough. Organizers from the Coalition for a Just and Equitable California, which pushed to create California’s reparations task force, have said the proposals are “not reparations.”
“Not one person who is a descendant who is unhoused will be off the street from that list of proposals. Not one single mom who is struggling who is a descendant will be helped,” organizer Chris Lodgson said. “Not one dime of the debt that’s owed is being repaid.”
To achieve successful reparations, in their 2023 report, the task force recommended that California pay up to $1.2 million to Black descendants. Many California state Democrats who initially supported the creation of the task force responded with unease to this recommendation. Governor Gavin Newsom, who signed the task force into law in 2020 and touted California as the first state to do so, also responded hesitantly to the task force’s estimate.
“California is not as liberal as people want us to believe,” said state Sen. Steven Bradford to POLITICO following the release of the report. “When it comes to the real issue that impacts us the most, race, we’re hesitant to really buck the curve.”
The only direct monetary compensation in the package comes in the form of “property takings” which, according to Bradford, would, “restore property taken during raced-based uses of eminent domain to its original owners or provide another effective remedy where appropriate, such as restitution or compensation.”
Black lawmakers anticipate a battle as some of the proposals may run into legal trouble with California’s Constitution. However, despite the criticisms and challenges, California’s reparations package represents a major milestone in the struggle for racial justice in America. While the current proposals may not satisfy all advocates, they reflect a shift in public awareness and political will. California’s actions give hope that the unfulfilled notion of 40 acres and a mule can inch closer to reality.