.Reparations Talks

A group of California lawmakers is tackling reparations for Black descendants of enslaved people with a set of bills modeled after recommendations that a state reparations task force spent years studying and developing.

The legislative package—a set of 14 bills the California Legislative Black Caucus released last week—addresses everything from criminal justice to food. It includes proposed laws that would require the governor and legislature to apologize for human rights violations. One bill would provide financial aid for redlined communities while another proposal aims to protect the right to wear “natural and protective” hairstyles in all competitive sports.

And the headliner of the package, authored by state Sen. Steven Bradford from Inglewood, who served on the task force, would address unjust property takings—referring to land, homes or businesses that were seized from Black owners through discriminatory practices and eminent domain.

The bill would “restore property taken during raced-based uses of eminent domain to its original owners or provide another effective remedy where appropriate, such as restitution or compensation.”

Notably, none of the proposed new laws would include widespread cash compensation for the descendants of slavery, as was recommended by the state’s reparations task force.

“While many only associate direct cash payments with reparations, the true meaning of the word, to repair, involves much more,” said state Assemblymember Lori Wilson, who chairs the Black Caucus.

“We need a comprehensive approach to dismantling the legacy of slavery and systemic racism,” said Wilson, from Suisun City.

Reparations to ‘Right the Wrongs’

The nine-member reparations task force, which included five members appointed by the governor, issued its final recommendations last year.

While serving on the state panel, Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer, from Los Angeles, urged his colleagues to be practical about which measures could get approved and signed into law.

Last week, he applauded the first set of bills, which include proposals to provide medically supportive food to Medi-Cal recipients and to require advance notice when grocery stores close in underserved communities.

“We will endeavor to right the wrongs committed against Black communities through laws and policies designed to restrict and alienate African Americans,” Jones-Sawyer said in a statement.

“Hundreds of legislative and budgetary reparatory recommendations were made within the final report and I, along with the members of the Black Caucus, look forward to working with our legislative colleagues to achieve true reparations and justice for all Black Californians,” he said.

Some of the bills announced last week include only broad strokes of what the proposed legislation would do, and some have not yet been formally introduced. All of the proposed bills in the reparations slate will be formally introduced by the Feb. 16 deadline, a spokesperson for Jones-Sawyer said.

The handful of proposed laws makes the Golden State the first in the nation to undertake reparations for Black Californians, but it is being released amid turbulent political and financial waters. The state is facing a budget deficit that the governor’s office says is $38 billion, which will make it a daunting task to gather support for any measures with hefty price tags attached.

In 2020, Newsom and some leaders applauded the creation and work of the state’s reparations task force, which held monthly meetings in several cities, from San Diego to Sacramento. Formed in the aftermath of the police murder of George Floyd, the task force began while initial public support for racial justice was strong, but it has since waned.

As the governor aims to boost his national profile, he has responded cooly to the state panel’s final recommendations, which included more than 115 wide-ranging policy prescriptions and a formula for calculating direct cash payments.

The panel held 15 public hearings, deliberated for two years, and considered input from more than 100 expert witnesses and the public. Task force advisors suggested the state owes Black Californians hundreds of millions of dollars for the harm they’ve suffered because of systemic racism.

CalMatters created an interactive tool for calculating how much a person is owed, using formulas in the task force’s final reports and how long a person lived in California during the periods of racial harm.

An Uphill Battle

Advocates face an uphill battle convincing other ethnic groups that a payout is due, in part because they have also endured racism and unfair treatment. Asians and Latino voters, who combined make up a majority of the California electorate, largely oppose reparations, as do a majority of white residents, polls show.

A spokesperson for Newsom said last week that the governor “continues to have productive conversations with the California Legislative Black Caucus. The governor is committed to further building upon California’s record of advancing justice, opportunity, and equity for Black Californians.”

At a press conference announcing his proposed budget last month, Newsom said he had “devoured” the more than thousand-page report issued by the state reparations panel.

“We are deeply mindful of what will come next in partnership with the Caucus, and the work continues in that space,” Newsom said.

Jonathan Burgess, a fire battalion chief from Sacramento and well-known advocate for reparations, called the legislative package “phenomenal,” especially its proposal to restore property or repay former owners.

“It’s a monumental, profound time,” he said.

Burgess and his family say a portion of land that is now within the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park in El Dorado County once belonged to him and his family and was unfairly taken away by the state.

His great-great-grandfather first came to California from New Orleans in 1849, initially brought here as a slave to mine for gold. Burgess regularly attended the state task force’s meetings, speaking about California’s racist history and the need for repair.

“I started my work almost five years ago now,” Burgess said last week, hours after the legislative package was released. “It’s very emotional for me. It’s hard to put into words how I feel—a sense of joy.”

Burgess said many of the wrongs committed against Black people and their families can never be fully quantified with any dollar amount, but returning property is one of the most important measures because it correlates to what would have been generational wealth.

“It’s really about righting history and showing our nation the path forward,” he said. “This is just the beginning, I’d like to hope.”


  1. “Righting History” is an insane concept. Past is past. Nobody in the United States TODAY is suffering from slavery. The entire premise of payouts for skin color is racist. Any politician promoting this lunacy is pandering for votes from the poorly educated and morally bankrupt. Handouts always backfire.

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  2. My education has taught me that every single one of us comes from a collection of motley types whove vacillated between the roles of criminal and victim since time immemorable. To assert that one group has been more oppressed than all the others is childish and ignorant. We are all products of countless generations of actions. Many black-skinned people are criminals just like brown-skinned and white skinned and asians. Every single one of us has been discriminated against and been treated with injustice. Life is not fair and if there is a predictable systematic order to the discrimination then it lies based on class and military strength, not based on skin hue. Gavin’s virtue signaling to a black caucus with an axe to grind is not in anybody’s interest except maybe the show pony himself. We have all lost land unfairly to bankers, lawyers, and the greedy elite. What we need to do is come together now and stop the steal as it continues today. Maybe Greedy Gavin could give back some of the farmland his group has confiscated and turned into vineyards. That would be an impressive show of solidarity on his part. This caucas is playing the division game as long as they are on the receiving side. Its clear to all of us that this is the same deal its always been. A far cry from real change or justice.

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