California should repay Black people who were forcibly removed from their homes for public projects, eliminate unnecessary employment barriers for those with criminal records and implement policies that prevent redistricting from diluting Black votes, a state task force to study and develop reparation proposals for African Americans said in a long-awaited initial report released Wednesday, June 1.
“Four hundred years of discrimination has resulted in an enormous and persistent wealth gap between Black and white Americans,” according to the interim report of the California Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans.
The report forges a landmark moment for the reparations movement. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed AB 3121 in 2020, creating the two-year task force and making California the first state to move ahead with such a study and plan. Since then, cities and universities have taken up the cause, with the Chicago suburb of Evanston, Illinois, becoming the first U.S. city to make reparations available to Black residents last year.
Since June 2021, the task forced has worked to record testimony from Black people, collect information about specific incidents around the state and gather suggestions from experts.
On Wednesday, the California team published its 500-plus-page draft report, listing a plethora of recommendations aiming to repair harmful historic incidents and their enduring impact on Black people.
The task force will release a full report by July 1, 2023, officials said.
The report maps out the lasting legacy of enslavement on African Americans has resulted in environmental and infrastructural racism, separate and unequal education, housing segregation and an enduring wealth gap.
To address the issues, the task force suggested:
- That incarcerated people should not be forced to work while in prison and if they do, must be paid fair market wages;
- Creation of a Cabinet-level secretary position to oversee an African American Affairs agency with branches for civic engagement, education, social services, cultural affairs and legal affairs.
- Easing the density of fast-food restaurants in Black neighborhoods; and
- Making funding and technical assistance available for to Black community-based land trusts to support wealth building and affordable housing.
The preliminary report also catalogued myriad examples of systemic racism throughout the decades in Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Orange and Riverside counties.
Perhaps the highest-profile example cited is the Bruce’s Beach movement in Manhattan Beach, which has made headlines for the past two years and resulted in history-making state and local decisions.
Willa Bruce in 1912 bought oceanfront property in Manhattan Beach to operate a lodge, cafe and dance hall for Black people into the 1920s.
White people used such tactics as slashing tires, setting fires and creating fake parking restrictions to shoo away the Bruces and to try to deter other Black families and beachgoers from coming to the area.
City officials condemned the property in 1924 through eminent domain, claiming an urgent need for a public park.
The Bruces sued for $120,000 but only received $14,500 for their lost property, enterprise and income, which didn’t reach their pockets for years. Meanwhile, no park was built until the 1950s.
Authors of the report maintained that such practices were common, as the construction of parks around the country was often used to harm Black or integrated neighborhoods, forcing African Americans to resettle in segregated neighborhoods. Parks were sometimes used as barriers between Black and White neighborhoods, the report said. Black neighborhoods lacked green spaces, the report added, and Black people were five times more likely from 1949 to 1973 to be displaced by eminent domain than White people.
The Bruce’s Beach instance, however, is the closest the state has gotten to paying reparations to African American people. The passage of SB 796 made way for Los Angeles County to return that land to Bruce descendants.
The parameters of that land transfer, which is set to be completed this year, is still being determined — whether the Bruces want to lease the land to the county or explore other other options.
California is home to the fifth-largest Black population in the U.S., after Texas, Florida, Georgia and New York, the report said. An estimated 2.8 million Black people live in California, according to the report.
African Americans make up nearly 6% of California’s population yet they are overrepresented in jails, youth detention centers and prisons. About 28% of people imprisoned in California are Black and in 2019, African American youth made up 36% of minors ordered into state juvenile detention facilities.
Nearly 9% of people living below the poverty level in the state were African Americans and 30% of people experiencing homelessness in 2019 were Black, according to state figures.
Black Californians earn less and and are more likely to be poor than white residents. In 2018, Black residents earned on average just under $54,000 compared to $87,000 for white Californians. In 2019, 59% of white households owned their homes, compared with 35% of Black Californians.
“California was not a passive actor in perpetuating these harms,” said California Attorney General Rob Bonta. “This interim report is a historic step by the State of California to acknowledge the insidious effects of slavery and ongoing systemic discrimination, recognize the state’s failings, and move toward rectifying the harm.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report