California’s slavery reparation plan could include payments up to $1.2m per person (2023)

The numbers are striking in their precision. The statistical value of each year of human life, accounting for racial differences in life expectancy: $13,619. Wealth missing due to lower rates of Black home ownership: $148,099. Average devaluation of Black-owned businesses: $77,000. Each year of disproportionate incarceration factored by race, combining lost wages and freedom: $159,792.

Thesecalculationsby California’s Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans, buried in the nearly500-page draftof a report that will go to the state legislature in late June, belie the complexity and raw emotion underlying the first state-level effort to provide compensation for the legacy of slavery and discriminationin the US. By even considering reparations for harms that have compounded for centuries, California is transforming what has been a largely theoretical concept into a detailed model that may be adopted elsewhere as others also attempt to reckon with the costs of historical injustices. And at a potential cost of up to $800 billion, this would be to datethe largest — and one of the most complex — reparations efforts in history.

Commissioned in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd in 2020, California’s reparations panel has spent two years analyzing the racial gaps in health, wealth, housing, education and employment that affect many of the state’s Black residents — about 2.25 million, or 5.7% of a diverse population of nearly 40 million with no racial majority. Their recommendations will be delivered to the legislature on June 29, and supportive lawmakers plan to propose bills enacting at least some of the measures by the end of the legislative session in 2024.

Some proposals are symbolic, such as an official apology from the state of California for the historic atrocities and harms suffered by Black people. Others are familiar: greater investments in schools, health care, housing, job training and businesses in Black communities; improving access to higher education; advancing voting rights; and reforms in policing and public safety that gained renewed support after Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police officers.

But none of the recommendations by the task force are more charged than offering direct compensation to eligible Black residents who are descended from a person enslaved in the US. Depending on the harms claimed and how many years a potential recipient has lived in California, the loss calculations go as high as $1.2 million per person.

In attempting to put a price on historical wrongs, California is forcing answers to questions that can’t be derived with neat equations: Who will be compensated and for what? Who pays the bill? And how will it be settled?

California’s ‘Sin Bill’

As the most populous US state, California is setting a potential roadmap for reparations at the federal level, where legislation has been introduced in Congress in every session since 1989. The most recent bill, introduced in May by Missouri Democratic Representative Cori Bush, calls for reparations to Black Americans totaling $14 trillion. That is how much proponents say is needed to close the racial wealth gap, which leaves White families with roughlysix times more wealththan Black ones — an indicator of the losses that descendants of people enslaved in the US have suffered.

(Video) Descendants of slaves in California could receive more than US$200,000 in reparations

The reparations task force applied that concept in its work, identifying discriminatory policies and practices dating back to California’s statehood in 1850 and attempting to trace their impacts to the present day.

The nine-member panel is made up of civil rights advocates, academics and lawmakers. They consulted economists, statisticians, assessors, archivists and historians. They studiedmonetary and non-monetaryprecedents, including Germany’s reparations to Israel after the Holocaust, South Africa’s Truth & Reconciliation Commission, Chile’s compensation to victims of the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, Canada’s payments to survivors of residential schools where Indigenous children were tortured and died, and the September 11th Victims Compensation Fund.

The panel also looked at reparations by the US government for other historical wrongs: the formal apology and $20,000 payments authorized by Congress in 1988 to Japanese Americans who were forced into internment camps during World War II; and a $9 million settlement and lifetime health care for survivors of the US Public Health Service Syphilis Study at Tuskegee on Black men that lasted until 1972.

And task force members traveled around California holding public hearings that became raucous and tearful, listening to testimony on Black-owned homes, businesses and farms seized by eminent domain or devalued through redlining and discriminatory lending practices. They heard stories of lives shattered by violence and incarceration, of Black neighborhoods where poverty, substandard schools and poor health have limited human potential for generations.

At 82, Reverend Amos C. Brown, vice chair of the reparations task force, is old enough to have had a great-great-grandfather who was enslaved. Born in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1941, he remembers vividly seeing photos of Emmett Till’s battered body after being murdered by white vigilantes in 1955. “He was the same age I was,” said Brown. “That shook me.”

Brown, who is also the pastor of San Francisco’s oldest Black congregation, sees reparations as California finally coming to terms with its “sin bill” for accumulated effects of slavery. Even though California outlawed slavery when it became a state in 1850, Black residents encountered discriminatory treatment since its founding, through the Gold Rush to the present day, in housing, health, employment, education and economic opportunity.

“You cannot put a dollar sign on racism, but our sin bill is so high it’s astronomical,” said Brown. “We are people of conscience and reason and goodwill. We’re not saying ‘pay it all at once,’ but you ought to do what you’ve done for others.”

(Video) San Francisco open to $5M payouts for Black reparations

A Down Payment on Injustice

It will be up to the state legislature to enact some or all of the recommendations from the task force — and to figure how to fund them. One concept under consideration is for the legislature to authorize a to-be-determined “down payment,” with the balance to be paid over time, through a combination of investments in Black communities and individual restitution for residents who can document harms based on government action.

State Senator Steven Bradford, one of two lawmakers on the task force, has proposed diverting 0.5% of the state’s $300 billion annual budget in order to generate a $1.5 billion annuity to fund reparations programs and payments over time. “If we are committed to it we can afford it,” he said.

But even in heavily Democratic California, public support for reparations is still lacking. While 71% of Californians say that racial and ethnic discrimination contributes to economic inequality in the US either a great deal or a fair amount, and 59% would approve of an official apology from the state for its role in perpetuating discrimination, only 43% of adults surveyed say they favor the state having a reparations task force, according to anew surveyfrom the Public Policy Institute of California. Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat who championed the creation of the task force, seemed to acknowledge the political limitations in a recent statement: “Dealing with that legacy is about much more than cash payments.”

Estimates for the total cost of reparations, according to task force calculations, run as high as $800 billion —nearly three times the state budget. As California slides from an era of hefty surpluses into what is projected to be a $32 billion deficit in the coming fiscal year, Newsom has called on lawmakers to be “prudent” and brace for recession.

“There is no way we can afford $800 billion,” said James Gallagher, the Republican leader in the Assembly. “Who is going to pay that? Taxpayers? New immigrants? It would be grossly unfair in addition to being unfeasible.”

California Secretary of State Shirley Weber and other advocates say the state’s fiscal woes are not an excuse for inaction. As a legislator in 2020, she wrote the bill creating the reparations task force.

(Video) What reparations could look like for Black Californians ahead of final vote

“When people say ‘we can’t spend that much money,’ I would say ‘What if what happened to African Americans happened to you? How much would it cost to make you whole?’” said Weber. “I doubt if anybody would say ‘Nothing, I’m happy being at the bottom of the rung and that everything’s OK.’”

Weber says she reminds people who question why they should bear liability for racial disparities that started generations ago that they “may not have planted the tree, but you surely enjoy the shade.”

That idea resonates far beyond California. In the UK, a group of aristocrats who inherited family wealth from the British slave trade have created an organization,Heirs of Slavery, to make voluntary reparations for the profits reaped by their ancestors and invited King Charles III to join.

In the US, building public support for reparations calls for a different conversation, one focused on return on investment rather than who pays what to whom, says Assembly member Reginald Jones-Sawyer Sr., the other elected official serving on the task force.

“Homeownership for African Americans may actually be a way to bring in more taxes, making schools equal in the inner cities for African American kids who are performing at a lower level, ending mass incarceration and plowing that money into recidivism programs and closing prisons,” he said in an interview. “What if we did an analysis on what that is to make more people able to live the American Dream, that it’s a cost benefit for all of us? Billions and billions of dollars is really billions of savings.”

A New Legacy

When it comes to reparations, there are still more questions than answers.

How can any government apportion liability on its citizens and taxpayers for harms that originated lifetimes ago, even if their impacts continue today? Should immigrants, of which there are many in California, assume the collective debt of reparations, even if they too are relatively poor and disadvantaged? Should eligibility be limited to descendants of people who were enslaved, or would the family members of a Black World War II veteran excluded from GI bill benefits also qualify, even if they arrived in the US long after slavery ended? What additional justice is owed descendants of indigenous and Chinese laborers, who suffered terrible deprivations in building California’s economy?

(Video) California considers slavery reparations for Black Americans

By focusing on the legacy of slavery and direct payments for its continuing impacts, the reparations movement is missing more effective approaches to closing the racial wealth gap, according to Richard Rothstein, author of “The Color of Law,” which chronicles US segregation in the 20th century.

In a new book, “Just Action,” co-authored with his daughter Leah, Rothstein advocates for remedies including subsidies for African Americans to buy homes in neighborhoods from which they were excluded and credit score reform to include rent paid on time, benefiting African Americans, who are more likely to rent than White Americans.

“African Americans as a race were excluded from many neighborhoods in this country by public policy and the consequences for their descendants are enormous,” Rothstein said. “If there was unconstitutional public policy, then race-conscious remedies would be justifiable.”

Some opponents of reparations in California concede investments are needed to improve education, housing and economic opportunity in Black communities, although they differ on the methods. “On some of the recommendations to increase home ownership I could see bipartisan support,” said Republican leader Gallagher. “We should do it in ways that benefit all Californians.”

Even if the state legislature does not enact cash payments anytime soon — or ever — the US reparations movement will likely be changed by California’s progress in driving a difficult public conversation and delivering a blueprintfor restorative justice.

Jones-Sawyer, known as Reggie, knows well the power of example. On his phone, hepulls up a black-and-white photo of his uncle, Jefferson Thomas, one of the Little Rock Nine who integrated the Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957. The teenager stands in profile, eyes straight ahead, jaw clenched, near a bus stop, surrounded by jeering White students. Someone has urinated on him; others have thrown garbage.

Jones-Sawyer learned from his family the backstory of that very image, which is now used in histories of the Civil Rights Movement. On that day, there had been confusion about who was supposed to pick up Thomasfrom school, and while the 10th grader was left waiting, a crowd of White students gathered, preparing to attack. A boy he did not know came out of the crowd and told the others to knock it off.

(Video) California reparations panel approves $1.2 million payments to Black residents

“The next day, my uncle tried to thank the kidand started talking about him being sent by God,” said Jones-Sawyer. “But the kid said, ‘I’m an atheist, I just said something because it was the right thing to do.’”

As an elected official, Jones-Sawyer says he hopes reparations will become part of his own legacy. “I wish I could do what those nine kids did and give back to the people of California.”

FAQs

Did Newsome refuse to pay reparations? ›

Newsom declines to publicly support reparations payments recommended by California task force. California's governor has declined to publicly say whether he'd support reparations payments to some Black state residents recommended by a state task force.

What are examples of reparations? ›

Reparations would involve a national apology, rights to the cannabis industry, financial payment, social service benefits, and land grants to every descendant of an enslaved African American and Black person a descendant of those living in the United States including during American slavery until the Jim Crow era.

What is the reparations bill in Cali? ›

Cash for slavery reparations in California draws cool response from Newsom. Newsom responded after a state task force calculated the cost at up to $1.2 million per person. A state panel's recommendation that California pay up to $1.2 million in slavery reparations is drawing a cool response from Gov. Gavin Newsom.

How many slaves were there in California? ›

Enslavement of indigenous peoples

This legalized a form of slavery, of forced labor in California. 24,000 to 27,000 Californian Natives were taken as forced laborers by settlers including 4,000 to 7,000 children.

When were reparations paid off? ›

The final payment was made on 3 October 2010, settling German loan debts in regard to reparations.

Who was ordered to pay reparations after the war? ›

After World War II both West Germany and East Germany were obliged to pay war reparations to the Allied governments, according to the Potsdam Conference. Other Axis nations were obliged to pay war reparations according to the Paris Peace Treaties, 1947.

What are the 5 types of reparations? ›

As explored above, reparations include five key components: Cessation/Assurance of Non-Repetition, Restitution and Repatriation, Compensation, Satisfaction, and Rehabilitation.

What was the reparation payments? ›

War reparations are compensation payments made after a war by one side to the other. They are intended to cover damage or injury inflicted during a war.

What were reparations payments? ›

reparations, a levy on a defeated country forcing it to pay some of the war costs of the winning countries. Reparations were levied on the Central Powers after World War I to compensate the Allies for some of their war costs.

How much did 40 acres of land cost in 1865? ›

Mr. Darity has been mulling that question for years, and is writing a book on reparations with Kirsten Mullen, due out next year. He begins with the cost of an acre in 1865: about $10. Forty acres divided among a family of four comes to 10 acres per person, or about $100 for each of the four million former slaves.

What year did slavery end? ›

Passed by Congress on January 31, 1865, and ratified on December 6, 1865, the 13th Amendment abolished slavery in the United States.

Was California a free state? ›

In 1849, Californians sought statehood and, after heated debate in the U.S. Congress arising out of the slavery issue, California entered the Union as a free, nonslavery state by the Compromise of 1850. California became the 31st state on September 9, 1850.

When did California free slaves? ›

For those early black pioneers, the state's policies appeared promising. California's first constitution, adopted in 1849, dictated that: “Neither slavery, nor involuntary servitude, unless for the punishment of crimes, shall ever be tolerated in this State.” A year later, under the Compromise of 1850, California was ...

What states had a lot of slaves? ›

As cotton became a popular and profitable growing option, slavery rapidly grew westward through Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Texas. Missouri, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Delaware also used slave labor, but not to the same extent as the other southern states.

What was the highest number of slaves in the US? ›

After the American Revolution, the Southern slave population exploded, reaching about 1.1 million in 1810 and over 3.9 million in 1860.

How much is 132 billion gold marks in today's money? ›

The Treaty of Versailles didn't just blame Germany for the war—it demanded financial restitution for the whole thing, to the tune of 132 billion gold marks, or more than $500 billion today.

Which country was the only one to pay its reparations? ›

Out of all the countries that were required to pay reparations from World War II, Finland is the only one known to have paid its bill in full when it sent $300 million to the Soviet Union in 1952.

Are ww2 reparations still being paid? ›

Germany started making reparations payments to Holocaust survivors back in the 1950s, and continues making payments today. Some 400,000 Jews who survived the Nazis were still alive in 2019. That year, Germany paid $564 million to the Claims Conference, which handles the payments.

Do countries still owe the US money from ww2? ›

The case of debts arising from World War II is somewhat less complicated. At this time only four countries, discussed below, owe the U.S. government debts of any size arising from World War II programs to aid our allies. Other countries have paid their debts in full.

Who did the US give money to after ww2? ›

The Marshall Plan (officially the European Recovery Program, ERP) was an American initiative enacted in 1948 to provide foreign aid to Western Europe.

How many people died in WWII? ›

World War II was the largest and most violent military conflict in human history. Official casualty sources estimate battle deaths at nearly 15 million military personnel and civilian deaths at over 38 million.

What is full reparation? ›

Definition. 1. Under international law, a State responsible for an international wrongful act must make full reparation for the injury caused by the internationally wrongful act. 1. For such obligation to arise, damage is not required, rather an injury suffices.

What is the rule of reparation? ›

Rule 150. A State responsible for violations of international humanitarian law is required to make full reparation for the loss or injury caused.

What is reparations to victims? ›

Victims have a right to reparation. This refers to measures to redress violations of human rights by providing a range of material and symbolic benefits to victims or their families as well as affected communities.

What are reparations simple? ›

: the act of making amends, offering expiation, or giving satisfaction for a wrong or injury. : something done or given as amends or satisfaction. : the payment of damages.

Is Japan still paying reparations for ww2? ›

Reparations amounting to US$200 million (72 billion yen) were made to Burma, and US$223.08 million (80.3088 billion yen) to Indonesia. The Soviet Union waived its rights to reparations from Japan, and both Japan and the Soviet Union waived all reparations claims arising from war.

Did the US pay reparations to Vietnam? ›

In January 1973, as part of the Paris Peace Agreement, the Nixon administration agreed to provide North Vietnam with $4.75 billion in aid for economic reconstruction.

Who won ww1? ›

Who won World War I? The Allies won World War I after four years of combat and the deaths of some 8.5 million soldiers as a result of battle wounds or disease. Read more about the Treaty of Versailles. In many ways, the peace treaty that ended World War I set the stage for World War II.

What are WWI reparations? ›

World War I reparations means the payments and transfers of property and equipment that Germany was forced to make after its defeat during World War I.

Did the US pay reparations to Japan? ›

The Act also directed reparations payments of $20,000 each to former internees. The United States would eventually pay reparations of $1.6 billion (or $3.5 billion in 2019 dollars) to 82,219 formerly interned Japanese Americans.

How much is 40 acres in a mule worth today? ›

40 Acres and a Mule Would Be at Least $6.4 Trillion Today—What the U.S. Really Owes Black America.

How much was an acre worth in 1800? ›

By 1800, the minimum lot was halved to 320 acres, and settlers were allowed to pay in 4 installments, but prices remained fixed at $1.25 an acre until 1854.

Did any slaves get 40 acres and a mule? ›

Gen. Rufus Saxton to divvy up the land. Each family of formerly enslaved Black people would get up to 40 acres. The Army would lend them mules no longer in use.

Who was the last state to free slaves? ›

It wasn't until more than two years later, in June of 1865, that U.S. Army troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas to officially announce and enforce emancipation. Texas was the last state of the Confederacy in which enslaved people officially gained their freedom—a fact that is not well-known.

Is there a loophole in the 13th Amendment? ›

The 13th Amendment bans slavery and involuntary servitude "except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted." Voters in Alabama, Oregon, Tennessee and Vermont amended their state constitutions in November to abolish those words and ban involuntary servitude and slavery.

What was the first state to ban slavery? ›

Such an opportunity came on July 2, 1777. In response to abolitionists' calls across the colonies to end slavery, Vermont became the first colony to ban it outright. Not only did Vermont's legislature agree to abolish slavery entirely, it also moved to provide full voting rights for African American males.

Was California a free state for slavery? ›

Doug came across some of this information while researching the Gold Rush era and California's recognition of statehood soon after. California entered the union in 1850 as a "free state." The state constitution says: "Neither slavery, nor involuntary servitude, unless for the punishment of crimes, shall ever be ...

How long did Mexico own California? ›

After twenty-seven years as part of independent Mexico, California was ceded to the United States in 1848 with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The United States paid Mexico $15 million for the lands ceded.

What was the first free state in America? ›

In 1780, Pennsylvania became the first state to abolish slavery when it adopted a statute that provided for the freedom of every slave born after its enactment (once that individual reached the age of majority).

Why is California so popular? ›

With sun, sand, surf, and mountains, the West Coast state of California is known for its many attractions that lure travelers year-round. From famous landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge and the Hollywood sign, to the Golden State's rich outdoor opportunities, this eclectic state makes for a well-rounded vacation.

What were the free states during slavery? ›

The territory was generally settled by New Englanders and American Revolutionary War veterans who were granted land there. The states created from the territory – Ohio (1803), Indiana (1816), Illinois (1818), Michigan (1837), Iowa (1846), Wisconsin (1848), and Minnesota (1858) – were all free states.

Did California legalize slavery? ›

California joined the Union as a free state in 1850, with a state Constitution that expressly outlawed slavery.

Which state still has slaves? ›

Download Table Data
StateSlave/Free
WyomingNeither
CaliforniaFree
ConnecticutFree
IllinoisFree
46 more rows

Where has the most slaves today? ›

As of 2018, the countries with the most slaves were: India (8 million), China (3.86 million), Pakistan (3.19 million), North Korea (2.64 million), Nigeria (1.39 million), Indonesia (1.22 million), Democratic Republic of the Congo (1 million), Russia (794,000) and the Philippines (784,000).

Where are there most slaves? ›

While China does not display the save diversity of slavery. Other countries with significantly high slave populations are Russia, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Indonesia, Egypt, Myanmar, Iran, Turkey, and Sudan.

How many slaves are in the US today? ›

More than 400,000 people could be living in “modern slavery” in the US, a condition of servitude broadly defined in a new study as forced and state-imposed labor, sexual servitude and forced marriage.

How many white slaves were there? ›

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, more than 300,000 white people were shipped to America as slaves.

Which US city had the most slaves? ›

The city of New Orleans was the largest slave market in the United States, ultimately serving as the site for the purchase and sale of more than 135,000 people. In 1808, Congress exercised its constitutional prerogative to end the legal importation of enslaved people from outside the United States.

Did the US ever pay reparations to Nicaragua? ›

The case was decided in favor of Nicaragua and against the United States with the awarding of reparations to Nicaragua. The Court had 15 final decisions upon which it voted.

Why was Germany unable to pay reparations? ›

After the Treaty of Versailles called for punishing reparations, economic collapse and another world war thwarted Germany's ability to pay. At the end of World War I, Germans could hardly recognize their country.

Did the Treaty of Versailles forced Germany to pay reparations? ›

Introduction. The Treaty of Versailles was signed by Germany and the Allied Nations on June 28, 1919, formally ending World War One. The terms of the treaty required that Germany pay financial reparations, disarm, lose territory, and give up all of its overseas colonies.

How much money has the US given to Nicaragua? ›

The United States Government (USG) has provided approximately $2.5 billion in development assistance to Nicaragua, mainly through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

What country was forced to pay reparations to what countries? ›

World War II Italy

According to the Treaty of Peace with Italy, 1947, Italy agreed to pay reparations of about US$125 million to Yugoslavia, US$105 million to Greece, US$100 million to the Soviet Union, US$25 million to Ethiopia, and US$5 million to Albania.

Is Germany still paying reparations for ww1? ›

Germany did not resume reparation payments for World War I until 1953, eight years after World War II came to an end. At the time, Germany was split into two separate countries: West Germany and East Germany.

Why did Germany stop paying reparations in 1923? ›

In 1922, Germany requested permission to suspend their payments whilst their economy recovered. This was refused by the Allies. By 1923, Germany reached breaking point as inflation started to run out of control. They were unable to continue paying reparations.

What happened when the Germans defaulted on their payments in 1923? ›

When Germany defaulted on a payment in January 1923, France and Belgium occupied the Ruhr in an effort to force payment. Instead, they met a government-backed campaign of passive resistance. Inflation in Germany, which had begun to accelerate in 1922, spiraled into hyperinflation.

How much money did the US get after ww2? ›

Gross national product (GNP), which measured all goods and services produced, skyrocketed to $300 billion by 1950, compared to just $200 billion in 1940. By 1960, it had topped $500 billion, firmly establishing the United States as the richest and most powerful nation in the world.

Was Germany to blame for ww1? ›

The Treaty of Versailles, signed following World War I, contained Article 231, commonly known as the “war guilt clause,” which placed all the blame for starting the war on Germany and its allies.

How much money did Germany have to pay because of the Treaty? ›

The terms of the Treaty of Versailles

Reparations - Germany was to be made to pay for the damage suffered by Britain and France during the war. In 1922 the amount to be paid was set at £6.6 billion.

Did Austria pay reparations after ww1? ›

After the devastation of World War I, the victorious western powers imposed a series of harsh treaties upon the defeated nations. These treaties stripped the Central Powers (Germany and Austria-Hungary, joined by Ottoman Turkey and Bulgaria) of substantial territories and imposed significant reparation payments.

Videos

1. We May Be the First People to Receive Reparations for Slavery | NYT Opinion
(The New York Times)
2. Historic vote on reparations for Black Americans in California | ABCNL
(ABC News)
3. Billions in Reparations for Slavery? A Biblical View of California's Proposal
(CBN News)
4. Everyone Gets $5 Million? California's Reparation Plan Explained | Will Swaim
(California Insider)
5. Should White People Pay Slavery Reparations?
(GEN)
6. Slavery reparations?? These ladies nail it 🔥
(James Klug)

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