California Task Force Votes to Limit Reparations to Descendants of Enslaved People

In a 5-4 vote, the panel decided to limit reparations to the descendants of free and enslaved Black people living in the country before the end of the 19th century

California’s Reparations Task Force—the first of its kind in the nation—voted Tuesday to limit state compensation to the descendants of free and enslaved Black people living in the country before the end of the 19th century, the Associated Press reports.

The split 5-4 vote came after a weeks-long debate about whether all Black Californians should receive some form of reparation regardless of lineage due to the lasting effects of slavery and discrimination that has continued years after abolition.

The vote brings California one step closer to determining who could receive reparations from the state. The task force’s decision will likely serve as a model for the rest of the nation.

The nine-member task force, which was established in September 2020, is comprised of elected officials, civil rights leaders, attorneys, and reparations experts who were each appointed by the governor and legislative leaders. They have been asked “to study and develop reparation proposals for African Americans, with a special consideration for African Americans who are descendants of persons enslaved in the United States.”

Secretary of State Shirley Weber, who authored the reparations legislation that Gov. Gavin Newsom signed in 2020 to launch the effort, emphasized in January that providing reparations is “an issue of descendancy and lineage,” the Los Angeles Times reports.

Those who voted in favor of the lineage approach argued that a reparation and restitution plan based on genealogy as opposed to race has the best chance of surviving a legal challenge, AP reports.

Opposing voters argued that compensation should include all Black people living in the U.S. who suffer from systemic racism in education, employment, and housing regardless of lineage. They also said they felt like the task force was defining eligibility too soon in the process.

Several genealogy experts have raised concerns that some might not be able to prove their ancestral connections due to name changes, destroyed records, and other barriers, according to the Times.

“Therefore, tracing an ancestor back to the early 1900s living anywhere in the country would prove descent from American chattel slavery since the only Africans that were here were the ones brought involuntarily, if unable to identify an enslaved ancestor by name,” said Genealogist Kellie Farrish.

Black residents represent five percent of California’s population, an estimated 2.6 million people. Compensation could include free college, assistance purchasing homes and launching businesses, and grants to community organizations and churches, AP reports.

No details have been finalized yet. The task force is expected to submit a report by June with a reparations proposal due in July, 2023, for the Legislature to consider signing it into law.

Stay on top of the latest in L.A. news, food, and culture. Sign up for our newsletters today.