Home National news California Congressional Black Caucus launches statewide ‘reparations education campaign’

California Congressional Black Caucus launches statewide ‘reparations education campaign’

Shown (l to r): Lucindy Lawrence Jurdon, age 79; Nathan Beauchamp, age about 92; and Tempie Herndon Durham, age 103. Photos are from Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1938. (Library of Congress).

A recent poll by the Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies (IGS) revealed that California residents have differing opinions on cash reparations for Black people. In response, the state’s Congressional Black Caucus intends to launch a campaign across the state to educate citizens about the significance of reparations for Black communities affected by slavery. Caucus members said the campaign will push for direct financial compensation for African Americans.

A survey by the Berkeley IGS found that 60% of California voters believe that the legacy of slavery is still impacting the current situation of Black residents in the state. Approximately 20% say they see some effect, and 13% say they see little.

The views compare to 31% who don’t think it has any impact. Further, the opinions of Democrats and liberals diverge considerably from those of Republicans and conservatives. Most Democrats and liberals in the state believe that the legacy of slavery has a significant or at least some impact on the lives of Black residents. In contrast, about two in three Republicans and conservatives take the opposite view and think the legacy has no effect today.

Most California voters (59% to 28%) oppose the state Reparations Task Force’s recommendations to provide cash payments to the descendants of enslaved Black people, according to the poll.

“The findings reveal California voters’ racial, political contradictions,” IGS co-director Cristina Mora said in a news release. “While many can empathize with the plight of Black Americans, not all these feelings will translate into support for policies that address longstanding racial harms. And though this might be an information issue for some groups, the fact that even liberals are divided indicates that campaigns for racial redress will face a steep uphill climb.”

Reginald Jones-Sawyer, a member of the reparations task force, emphasized that the poll results show a big lack of awareness about California’s long history of slavery and other forms of racism that have caused lasting harm to Black families.

“Polls can be skewed because usually enough information isn’t given to the people so that they don’t have a full understanding of what’s going on,” Jones-Sawyer told NBC News. “If each individual that they polled had read that 400-page document we did last year, which proved how California was complicit in chattel slavery, and read the 1,100-page document that we printed out this year, which talked about what reparations should be, there’s absolutely no way you would believe that [there] shouldn’t be some type of compensation.”

To bridge this knowledge gap, Jones-Sawyer said the Black Caucus would initiate a fundraising campaign to secure the services of a firm that delivers “clear, concise, and direct messaging” about the report. He emphasized the need to combat efforts to undermine the task force’s findings.

A big challenge is educating the members of the California Assembly. They are expected to sponsor legislation based on a 1,000-page report published in June by the task force. The state Reparations Task Force report addressed many areas and advocated for over 100 statewide policies to rectify generations of discrimination.

The text does not specify the amount of money that will be given to individuals who can prove their ancestry as either enslaved African Americans or free African Americans before 1900.

Jones-Sawyer illustrated the urgency of the matter with a compelling analogy: “If you were to buy something, and then later on, you find out that it was stolen property, you wouldn’t keep that property. You wouldn’t take advantage of it. Well, the labor of African Americans was stolen for centuries. And now we’re asking for us to restore our dignity, restore what was taken from us. And any legal system would tell you that is the appropriate measure that you should take. And I think any American, once they are educated, would understand why it’s so important to have reparations.”

However, the absence of a specified monetary figure remains a point of contention for many within the Black community. Cathy Adams, president of the Oakland African American Chamber of Commerce, emphasized the importance of educating the public about the historical injustices.

“This isn’t about Black people looking for a check, a handout,” Adams told NBC. “This is bigger than that. The harms of slavery are real. We are dealing with a number of disparities and inequities in the Black community that stem from what was denied or taken from us, our ancestors.”

Denise Branch, an anti-racism educator and racial equity consultant, interpreted the poll results as indicative of lingering attitudes towards Black Americans. Branch argued that the lasting financial ramifications of slavery on Black communities cannot be dismissed.

The California Black Caucus is working with the Legislature on recommendations for reparations for Black Californians. They will involve the public in gathering insights and ideas to influence decision-makers. They plan to present their recommendations to Gov. Gavin Newsom in early 2024.

“Some of the best ideas we ever got did not come from elected officials, did not come from academics, did not come from a bureaucrat,” Jones-Sawyer said. “They came from real people. And that’s going to be the thing that will get us over when we start talking to our fellow legislators about why this is so important and why they need to vote ‘yes’ on it. We’re not going to get them all. But we don’t need them all. We just need the majority in the assembly. And I think we have a good clear path to that.”

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