The state and local efforts have faced opposition over the potentially steep cost to taxpayers and, in one case, derided as an ill-conceived campaign to impose an “era of social justice.”
More on California
- Jaywalking Law: California has had one of the strictest jaywalking laws in the nation. Starting Jan. 1, that will no longer be the case.
- Remaking a River: Taming the Los Angeles River helped Los Angeles emerge as a global megalopolis, but it also left a gaping scar across the territory. Imagining the river’s future poses new challenges.
- A Piece of Black History Destroyed: Lincoln Heights — a historically Black community in a predominantly white, rural county in Northern California — endured for decades. Then came the Mill fire.
- Employee Strike: In one of the nation’s biggest strikes in recent years, teaching assistants, researchers and other workers across the University of California system walked off the job to demand higher pay.
A two-day public meeting of the state task force this fall, in a makeshift hearing room tucked inside a Los Angeles museum, included a mix of comments from local residents on how they had been personally affected and how the disparities should be addressed, along with testimony from experts who have studied reparations.
While even broad-scale reparations would be unlikely to eliminate the racial wealth gap, they could narrow it significantly, and proponents hope California’s effort will influence other states and federal legislators to follow suit.
“Calling these local projects reparations is to some degree creating a detour from the central task of compelling the federal government to do its job,” said William A. Darity Jr., a professor at Duke University and a leading scholar on reparations. Even so, Dr. Darity, who is advising the California task force, said “there is an increasing recognition” that the lasting effects of slavery must be addressed.
Every year for almost three decades, Representative John Conyers Jr. of Michigan introduced legislation that would have created a commission to explore reparations, but the measure consistently stalled in Congress. After Mr. Conyers retired in 2017, Representative Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas began championing the measure, which passed a House committee for the first time last year, but stalled on the floor.
Underscoring the political hurdles, opinions on reparations are sharply divided by race. Last year, an online survey by the University of Massachusetts Amherst found that 86 percent of African Americans supported compensating the descendants of slaves, compared with 28 percent of white people. Other polls have also shown wide splits.
Still, several efforts have gotten off the ground recently.
In 2021, officials in Evanston, Ill., a Chicago suburb, approved $10 million in reparations in the form of housing grants. Three months later, officials in Asheville, N.C., committed $2.1 million to reparations. And over the summer, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a plan to transfer ownership of Bruce’s Beach — a parcel in Manhattan Beach that was seized with scant compensation from a Black couple in 1924 — to the couple’s great-grandsons and great-great-grandsons.