A new report from California’s first-ever reparations task force explains how slavery affected nearly every aspect of Black life in America, causing “innumerable harms” that are still felt today.
The report, which will be released on Wednesday, provides a thorough examination of the effects of enslavement and generations of discrimination on Black Californians and Black Americans in general. It concludes that the harm done to Black communities has been extensive, and that a combination of intentionally crafted policy, judicial decisions, and racism by private actors has resulted in widespread exclusion of Black people, which has not been adequately addressed at any level of government.
The report, the first of its kind at the state level, comes amid increased national discussion about reparations, as well as local and municipal action. H.R. 40, congressional legislation that would establish a national commission to study reparations and explain the role of the United States government in enslavement and systemic discrimination, passed out of the House Judiciary Committee last year, but it has since stalled.
The California report examines not only the immediate impact of enslavement, but also the long-term consequences of political neglect, concluding that generations of Black Americans have been harmed. The damage has had a long-term impact on Black people’s political, economic, social, physical, mental, and cultural well-being, particularly those descended from slaves.
The interim report, prepared by the civil rights division of the California Department of Justice with input from the task force, includes expert testimony and public task force meetings, as well as a thorough review of media articles, academic papers, and historical documents. Members of the task force argue that the report is the most in-depth examination of the structural barriers that Black Americans face since the Kerner Commission report in 1968.
The California task force will issue a second report next year that will detail specific reparations proposals and who should be eligible for them.
The interim report’s authors recount the “moral and legal wrongs the American and Californian governments have inflicted upon their own Black citizens and residents” over 13 chapters and 600 pages, noting how slavery and subsequent discrimination exposed Black communities to racial terror and political disenfranchisement, left them with inferior health and wealth building outcomes, and relegated them to segregated neighborhoods and schools.
The harms were largely deliberate, crafted through local and national policies that reinforced one another, ensuring that former slaves and their descendants were denied even basic legal protections. The denial was especially acute in California, which, while prohibiting slavery when it joined the Union in 1850, also supported the rights of pro-slavery white Southerners and turned a blind eye as enslaved people were trafficked into the state.
According to the report, the stated ban on slavery was far from the only time California appeared to contradict itself on its stance toward Black Americans. Two years after California became a free state, legislators passed a fugitive slave law, which authorized the capture and deportation of men and women fleeing enslavement. The state also delayed ratifying the 14th Amendment, which established equal rights for people born in the United States, and the 15th Amendment, which stated that race could not be used to deny voting rights, until 1959 and 1962, respectively.
According to the report, as the state built a progressive reputation, attracting a growing Black population over decades, it continued to act against the best interests of Black people and other communities of color. Black people were frequently denied the right to vote and subjected to literacy tests and poll taxes. Housing covenants were used to keep Black Californians out of white communities, only to have Black neighborhoods demolished to make way for parks and freeways.