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California legislature introduces new reparations bill that could spark policy talks

One of the California Reparation Task Force Committee’s 115 recommendations to disseminate forms of restitution to those eligible has been introduced by the state’s Legislature.

The Legislature has introduced SB 490 which would create the California American Freedmen Affairs Agency, a state agency responsible for overseeing the infrastructure behind administering reparations.

The legislation was introduced by Sen. Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, to allow legislative policy discussions regarding reparations to officially begin.

This is a continuation of his work with the state’s task force, which began in 2020 when Gov. Gavin Newsom signed AB 3121, authored by then-Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, to explore how California might compensate for harms and wrongdoings caused by enslavement and racial discrimination.

The task force committee held their final meeting in June and released a report detailing the atrocities and immoral acts inflicted upon enslaved persons of African descent.

“This historic legislation lays the groundwork for the future,” Bradford said in a news release. “My fellow task force members and I have documented the harm, detailed its generational impact, and determined the way forward to right these wrongs. The Freedman Affairs Agency will establish the instrumental infrastructure California will need as our state takes responsibility for the historical harms that have been committed.”

Reparations Task Force member state Sen. Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, listens during a task force meeting at the CalEPA Building in Sacramento on Friday, March 3, 2023. The group is studying reparations proposals for African Americans, with special consideration for U.S. descendants of enslaved persons.
Reparations Task Force member state Sen. Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, listens during a task force meeting at the CalEPA Building in Sacramento on Friday, March 3, 2023. The group is studying reparations proposals for African Americans, with special consideration for U.S. descendants of enslaved persons.

History of California’s proposed Freedman Affairs Agency

The idea for the California American Freedmen Affairs Agency was inspired by an act passed by Congress on March 3, 1865.

In the 19th century, the federal government established a Freedmen’s Bureau to provide food, shelter, clothing, medical services and land to African Americans newly freed from enslavement.

It also established schools, supervised contracts between the freedmen and employers, and managed confiscated or abandoned lands.

The 21st century Freedmen Affairs Agency is modeled to have some of the same functions, aiming to implement programs and policies that benefit the quality of life for descendants of enslaved Black people.

“Each year, the California State Legislature introduces legislation to stop and prevent wage theft because we know workers have a right to fair compensation. Over our history, this land and nation have benefited from 250 years of wage theft through slavery. Just as my colleagues support those bills relating to wage theft, they should also support reparations-related legislation. Reparations are not a gift. They are not a hand-out or charity, but they are what was promised, owed, and overdue,” said Bradford.

The agency could also provide services to the descendants of enslave African Americans through contracts, grants or partnerships with community-based organizations, private entities and other local, state and federal agencies.

The proposed freedmen’s agency could consist of branches that cover different areas of reparations, such as confirming genealogy for eligibility of services. Other branches could handle legal affairs, data and research, social services and family affairs, medical/psychological services and business affairs for entrepreneurship, according to the task force’s report.

SB 490 will be eligible for the Legislature to vote on in 2024.