By MADISON HIRNEISEN
THE CENTER SQUARE STAFF REPORTER
(The Center Square) — California’s primary election day Tuesday had voters flocking to ballot boxes and polling locations to cast their vote — one of the civil liberties the state’s task force on reparations says had been wrongly denied to black residents in the state’s history.
California’s first-in-the-nation Reparations Task Force submitted its interim report to the state legislature, detailing the harms black Americans have faced due to slavery and its long-lasting effects through the present day.
The task force, formed in 2020 under a law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, voted in March to limit reparations in California to those who are descendants of slaves, as opposed to all black Californians.
Among the findings in the 500-page report released last week, the task force found that black Americans have faced political disenfranchisement nationwide despite pursuing “equal political participation since before the Civil War.”
Several southern states passed laws in the late 1800s to prevent black Americans from voting, including literacy tests, poll taxes and grandfather clauses.
Within California, black men were not allowed to vote until 1879, and the state passed many voter suppression laws that were used in the South, according to the task force report. California also prohibited people convicted of felonies from voting. A ballot initiative in 2020 automatically restored paroled felons’ voting rights.
The task force recommended establishing funding for voter education and outreach, allowing individuals with felony convictions to serve on juries and “consider legislation to prevent dilution of the Black vote through redistricting.”
Other findings in the report revealed that black Americans faced housing segregation both nationally and within California.
The report said that the federal, state and local government “created segregation through redlining, zoning ordinances, decisions on where to build schools and highways and discriminatory federal mortgage policies.”
California’s “sundown towns” — a term given to towns that required black Americans to leave by dusk — also “prohibited African Americans from living in entire cities throughout the state,” the report says. In 2020, Glendale became the first California city to apologize for its history as a “sundown town,” NBC Los Angeles reported.
The task force recommends a state-subsidized mortgage system to guarantee low-interest rates for qualified black applicants, compensate individuals who were “forcibly removed from their homes due to state action” and eliminate discriminatory housing practices.
Other recommendations include providing free tuition to California colleges and universities, developing and funding intensive training programs to help black Californians access employment opportunities they’ve been excluded from and eliminating racial disparities in policing.
“Without accountability, there is no justice. For too long, our nation has ignored the harms that have been — and continue to be — inflicted on African Americans in California and across the country,” California Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a statement.
Members of the task force called the report “the most extensive government-issued report on the African American community since the Kerner Commission in 1968.”
“It is my hope that people in California and across the United States utilize this report as an educational and organizing tool, as this interim report exceeds expectations in substantiating the claim for reparations for the African American/American Freedmen community on the municipal, state and federal level,” Kamilah Moore, chairperson of the task force, said in a statement.
A final report from the task force will be issued before July 1, 2023, according to the Attorney General’s Office.
Madison Hirneisen covers California for The Center Square.