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Will Black Californians Get their Deserved State Reparations or is it Another Broken Promise?

by Joshua Brown
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Pia Harris, a person living in San Francisco, wishes that before she dies she will see reparations actually put into action. But, the California lawmakers seem to be pushing back this idea due to some people believing slavery is done and gone.

Harris, 45-years-old, thinks it’s unfair that some people don’t realize that Black people’s lives did not get better after slavery was abolished in 1865. They still don’t have access to owning property or getting a good education. People are still warned about law enforcement, and Black businesses find it difficult to receive loans.

Harris said that people need to stop acting like slavery and discrimination are things from the past. They still have an effect on people today and it’s not something we can just ignore. It hasn’t gone away for us, whatever “us” is.

Black people in California have been paying close attention to what the governmental task force has been doing during their two-year study. This month, they finished the list of suggestions and will be sending them to lawmakers. We don’t know yet what lawmakers are going to do with these ideas like giving payments to descendants of enslaved people and a formal apology from the state.

Big Big News interviewed some Black people who have been talking about getting reparations for a while. The activists that worked to get civil rights in the 1960s and younger entrepreneurs were worried about California exploring the idea of reparations without actually following through on them. They don’t want it to end up as an empty promise.

After the Civil War ended in 1865, General William Tecumseh Sherman tried to give some of the newly freed African Americans 40 acres of land each. Unfortunately this didn’t happen. In recent years, certain members of Congress have put forward plans for reparations which would help make up for this injustice, yet these proposals weren’t accepted.

In 2020, California became the first state to set up a task force that looks into how the state promotes and supports racism. The task force also suggested ways for the state to make things fair again. Even though when it came into the union California was said to be “free”, which means everybody should have their freedom, African Americans were not protected by laws.

The state doesn’t have enough money, so it won’t be able to use some of the ideas that the task force suggested. These ideas included giving financial help to certain people and making a new government organization to help people look into their family history and make claims.

The state has to pay around five-hundred billion dollars because of choices it made in the past. This money is due to too much policing, putting lots of people in jail and not allowing Black families to buy houses in areas where prices were going up.

Damien Posey, 44, grew up in areas in San Francisco that were mainly filled with people of color. When he was living there his nights would often be disturbed by the sound of gunshots and he attended schools where not everybody was happy to have Black kids like him around. Later on in life, he spent 10 years in prison due to a weapons charge but then decided to use this experience to start a charity called Us 4 Us Bay Area. This charity helps out young people and also works hard to reduce gun violence.

Government officials should make an apology and then provide money to help African Americans. This is for the people whose families did a lot of work without being paid as much as they deserved to. The money would be for them, since it’s what their ancestors should have gotten in the first place. “Our people really should get it,” he said.

Les Robinson, a 66-year-old associate pastor from the Sanctuary Foursquare Church in Santa Clarita, which is located 30 miles north of Los Angeles, said that compensation for Black Americans is an important part of state reparations projects since they have “lost out on a lot of money” because of unfair policies.

Robinson shared that money is not the only important factor to look at and we shouldn’t just focus on it. He also emphasized on retelling California’s history in a different way, which can show its involvement in keeping racism alive despite claiming to be a “free” state.

In 2017, Robinson felt really emotional when he found out that he is related to the founder of California’s first Black church! He was sad because not many people knew about his great-great-great-grandfather named Daniel Blue and how he started what today is known as Saint Andrews African Methodist Episcopal Church in Sacramento.

Robinson believes that it will be hard for the law makers to pass a law to give reparations because of what has happened in the past.

He said, ” African Americans are mad and frustrated, because we have been tricked by people in power for hundreds of years.”

Joan Tarika Lewis, a former member of the Black Panther party, looked into her family background and found out some of her ancestors were in California long before slavery was over. They also helped others find freedom from being slaves.

When Lewis was a teenager, she became the first female member of the party. She wants Black people to know more about their past and for everyone in California to get an education on the incredible things that Black pioneers and civic leaders have done. Additionally, Lewis hopes to raise awareness about what has been lost in this community.

Her dad had a boxing gym in West Oakland which was like a big family room for kids to learn from their parents. But then the government took away that land and made a really busy street and railroad instead. They paid her family what seemed like a very small amount of money for the land, but it later became worth a lot – like an expensive part of San Francisco.

Lewis thinks proper reparation can be done if the leaders are determined enough.

Vincent Justin is a 75-year-old resident of Richmond, Virginia and he used to drive buses. He’s also a veteran of the civil rights movement since back in the 1960s he marched with Martin Luther King Jr., Huey P. Newton, Stokely Carmichael and many other well-known activist figures.

Though this struggle has been going on for several years now, Vincent still remains hopeful that their mission for reparations will be recognized at the federal level one day.

In his own words: “I believe we’ll get to a point of fairness at last.”

Sophie Austin is a reporter working in San Francisco. She is part of an organization called Report for America which works to put journalists in newsrooms to report about topics that are not given enough attention. You can follow Sophie on Twitter by typing in her name @sophieadanna.

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