A new law in California could create a path to reparations for the descendants of enslaved Black people in America, which would make the state the first to do so.
Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, who represents San Diego, proposed legislation that establishes a nine-person task force that will study how slavery impacted Black Californians, NBC News reports. It will then recommend to the state legislature what form of compensation is necessary, who would get it and what it would look like.
The law was signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday. “After watching last night’s debate, this signing can’t come too soon,” he said during a videoconference.
In a statement he offered further remarks: “As a nation, we can only truly thrive when every one of us has the opportunity to thrive. Our painful history of slavery has evolved into structural racism and bias built into and permeating throughout our democratic and economic institutions.”
The legislation got bipartisan support from California state lawmakers. Advocates hope that it will become a model for other legislators to do the same kind of introspection on the impact slavery had on their states.
“This is an extremely important time for all of us,” Weber told NBC News. “California tries to lead the way in terms of civil rights, and we have a responsibility to do that.”
California was founded in 1850 as a free state, like others in the north. But at the time, there were legal provisions that allowed people to keep slaves as long as they were there on a temporary basis, or had purchased them prior to statehood. Slavery was declared illegal throughout the Union in 1863 with the Emancipation Proclamation. Although this was in the midst of the Civil War, California was a Union state. However, parts still had Confederate sympathizers.
“California has come to terms with many of its issues, but it has yet to come to terms with its role in slavery,” said Weber. “After 400 years, we still have the impact.”