In 2020, California became the first state in the nation to move toward reparations for Black residents after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill creating the California Reparations Task Force. The committee was charged with developing solutions to best serve Black Californians today and delivering its findings by July 2023. In its most recent hearing, the nine-member group recommended forming a modern-day version of the Freedmen’s Bureau, the short-lived government agency that helped formerly enslaved people start their lives post-emancipation.
The Sacramento Bee reported on March 7 about the meeting earlier this month. Task force Chair Kamilah Moore, along with the other members, endorsed building a Freedom Affairs Agency in the state that would work similarly to how the Freedmen’s Bureau did in the early Reconstruction South. The new independent body would seek to right the wrongs of slavery as much as possible by aiding its descendants, though exactly how has yet to be determined. “It would be a permanent place and space for this unique group of people to get the services that they’ve been denied and despoiled for centuries,” Moore said.
The Freedmen’s Bureau was formed in 1865 with the goal of helping the formerly enslaved become self-reliant citizens, assisting in their transition out of bondage by negotiating labor contracts, legalizing marriages, and locating lost relatives. It also provided food, housing, education, and medical care to more than 4 million people. But, it was disbanded after just seven years due to growing racial backlash from white Southerners who pressured the government to do away with it.
It also created an invaluable resource in the form of a massive database of names from the periods of slavery to Reconstruction. These genealogical records will likely be used by the state of California to determine eligibility for reparations.
State lawmakers will review the task force’s recommendations and propose policies that would have to be passed by the legislature and signed into law by Newsom. When it comes to the potential cost of the effort, Moore stated plainly that problems dating back hundreds of years won’t be solved with small action. “We know the legislature is going to do what it wants. Why shouldn’t we go as large as possible?” she questioned. “The scope of harm is large, so the scope of the solution should be as large.”