California

Calif.’s slavery reparations panel settles key question: who should be eligible for payments?

A California task force commissioned with studying slavery reparations and making recommendations to the state legislature for a potential reparations scheme have settled on who, exactly, would be eligible for a taxpayer-funded payout over slavery.

The answer? Direct descendents of slaves only.

On a narrow 5-4 vote, the nine-member panel opted to limit potential reparations to direct descendants rather than expanding the scope of payments to those whose families did not experience slavery in the United States.

The vote was not without hand-wringing among the panel’s membership.

“Please, please, please I beg us tonight, take the first step,” said task force vice chairRev. Amos Brown, per KTVU.

“Are we going to act like we live in a country where there are no political realities, no laws. Are we just going to go through an exercise and end up at the end of the day coming up with no measurable outcomes whatsoever?”

California was admitted into the union in 1850 as a “free state,” barring slave-owning activities.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state Legislature created the nine-person task force in 2020, and it has until June to send recommendations to the Legislature regarding reparations. 

Last month, task force members were divided over whether eligibility should be granted to those who can trace their ancestry to slaves in the United States or to all Black Californians. 

Secretary of State Dr. Shirley Weber authored the bill when she was serving in the Assembly. 

She previously told the task force to keep its focus on limiting reparations for people who are descendents of slaves, and the bill specifically directs the task force to “develop reparation proposals for African Americans, with a special consideration for African Americans who are descendants of persons enslaved in the United States.” 

Asm. Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D–Los Angeles) serves on the task force and voted for the delay in order to continue the conversation. 

He argued that limiting eligibility only to those with ancestors who were slaves would arbitrarily exclude Black people whose families immigrated to the United States after slavery was abolished. 

“At the end of the day, people who are prejudiced against us are prejudiced against all of us,” Jones-Sawyer said in February. “People that look like us in California, they’re suffering just as much right now as people who were descendants of slavery.” 

Reid Stone is a contributing reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun.