The politics of new reparations blood—next stage

Practical Politics

David L. Horne, PH.D. | 10/8/2020, midnight

Last Wednesday, Sept. 30, Gov. Newsom of California put new life into the movement for reparations of African-Americans in the United States. He signed AB3121, a brilliant piece of legislation authored by Assemblywoman Dr. Shirley Weber, out of San Diego, and supported by a virtual majority of the current California Legislative Caucus. The new law, which provides the first state version of the pending H.R. 40 bill in Congress, places California as the first state to launch such a non-federal version of the bill.

AB3121 requires the creation of a nine-person state commission to study slavery and its aftermath in California and the U.S., and based on that study to produce a body of reparations proposals to submit back to California state government.

What with the gigantic, persistent fire season, the continuation of the pernicious COVID-19 pandemic in the state, homelessness and the housing crisis in California, and a massive state budgetary deficit, the passage of AB3121 was not an easy sell. But the governor said it is past time to do something significant about Black discrimination and inequality in California and the U.S., and this is one way California can play a major part in coming up with viable solutions.

Yea to the governor. Yea and Bou-Yow to Dr. Weber and the Legislative Black Caucus.  

Now in getting to work (first the nine commissioners must be chosen), one thing is certain: there will be plenty of very hard work for all concerned. Firstly, slavery—which was a legal, property issue in the U.S. must be properly defined, geographically identified and summarized. Slavery was not legal in all states, and before the 1850 Compromise and its companion Fugitive Slave Act, slavery was essentially a state issue, not a federal one. California, by its state constitution, prohibited slavery, but nevertheless allowed it to exist, flourish and grow in spite of that ban.

California slavery was different from that of most states—for example, California was not a slave-breeding state—but the Jim Crowism, mass incarceration, redlining and other post-slavery impacts on California’s Black population were just as harsh here as otherwhere in the U.S. The AB3121 commission has to address that.

In the early 20th century, legal researcher Deadria Farmer-Paellmann’s federal lawsuit challenge to some of America’s biggest corporations and educational institutions pushed the reparations movement to a persistent motif of heavy headlines and political pressure. That thrust dissipated by the end of 2006, after California had tipped its toe into the fray with SB2199, the California Insurance Act—Slave Era Insurance Policies (2000), authored by former State Senator Tom Hayden, which called for insurance companies in the state to publish records that delineated whether those companies, or any companies they purchased, profited from slaveholding in California.

California also called for the University of California to develop colloquia and conferences to research the issue, and it did so. Again, however, those efforts had meandered away by 2010.

Some big name companies were shown during the maelstrom to have profited from slavery and the slave trade, including Aetna Insurance, FleetBoston Financial, Providence Bank of Rhode Island (a major financial founder of Brown University), CSX Railroad, Brooks Brothers Clothiers, Barclays Bank, Brown Brothers Harriman, Lehman Brothers, JP Morgan Chase Bank, New York Life Insurance Company, Wachovia—Wells Fargo Bank, Norfolk Southern Railroad, etc.

The trail of many leads that grew out of that first 21st century decade of reparations research, legal action and political activism still awaits new, better financed pursuers. California’s newest reparations law will now allow that investigation to renew full force to a distinctive conclusion.

To those willing to take the trip, let’s get started!

Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.

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