On September 30, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law historic legislation that paves the way for African Americans and descendants of slaves in the Golden State to receive reparations for slavery.
The bill, authored by California Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, establishes a nine-person task force that will study the impact of the slave trade on Black people.
It does not commit to any specific payment, but the task force will make recommendations to legislators about what kind of compensation should be provided, who should receive it, and what form it would take.
“After watching [the presidential] debate, this signing can’t come too soon,” Newsome declared during a videoconference with lawmakers and other stakeholders, including the rapper Ice Cube, who championed the bill.
“As a nation, we can only truly thrive when every one of us has the opportunity to thrive. Our painful history of slavery has evolved into structural racism and bias built into and permeating throughout our democratic and economic institutions,” the governor said.
At the abolishment of slavery in the United States in 1865, Union General William T. Sherman promised freed slaves would receive 40 acres and a mule from a redistributed tract of Atlantic coastline.
President Abraham Lincoln and the U.S. Congress certified that promise. Still, only slave owners received reparations, and African Americans continued to toil in the face of oppression—suffering during infamous eras like Jim Crow, the Civil Rights Movement and White supremacy.
Earlier this year, Asheville, North Carolina, made headlines when its city council formally apologized for its role in slavery and voted unanimously to provide reparations to African American residents and their descendants.
“Hundreds of years of Black blood spilled that fills the cup we drink from today,” said Councilman Keith Young, one of two African American members of the city council that voted 7-0 in favor of reparations.
“It is simply not enough to remove statutes. Black people in this country are dealing with systemic issues.”
Asheville’s resolution did not include monetary payments to African Americans but promised investments in areas where Black people face disparities.
Weber, a San Diego Democrat, said her bill signed by Newsom recommends reparations not just for slavery, but also for some of the institutional practices that continue to disproportionately affect African Americans.
“This is an extremely important time for all of us,” Weber said. “California tries to lead the way in terms of civil rights, and we have a responsibility to do that.
“California has come to terms with many of its issues, but it has yet to come to terms with its role in slavery. After 400 years, we still have the impact.”
U.S. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) has worked closely with former Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer on pushing a platform on slavery reparations on the federal level.
Earlier this year, Congress members examined the topic of reparations for African Americans over slavery at a hearing on a proposed study on the issue from Jackson Lee.
It marked the first time in more than a decade that such hearings took place.
“This is long overdue,” Jackson Lee said. “Slavery has never received an apology.”
Weber made clear that the new California law wasn’t a knee-jerk response to the murders of George Floyd, Ahmad Arbery, and other Black people at the hands of law enforcement.
“This is not just because of the circumstances we face. What happened is that, of course, those circumstances reinforced the fact that what we were saying all along was true,” Weber said.
“Some think we’re just responding to the moment, but we’re responding to the history of California and the life of Black people in California and in this nation.”