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California could resurrect a modern Freedman’s Bureau for reparations

At its last hearing, the California Reparations Task Force voted to recommend reviving a modern version of the Freedmen’s Bureau — a comprehensive agency established in 1865 to help formerly enslaved black people — to administer all reparations benefits in the state.

The nine-member California task force, led by Governor Gavin Newsom, has been studying the depth of damage inflicted by racism in the state and beyond for two years. During a public hearing earlier this month in Sacramento, the task force agreed with President Kamilah Moore to recommend a state agency called the Freedom Affairs Agency that would operate similarly to the Freedmen’s Bureau.

The task force said its recommendations for reparations would include monetary compensation and the establishment of programs to address long-standing systemic inequalities. Establishing centralized oversight of these proposals was a major concern for both the task force and those who attended the public hearings.

“We need these programs you’re talking about held accountable,” a man who had traveled from Hayward, about 90 miles south of Sacramento, told the task force. “The last thing we need is for this to be a scam and for people to line their pockets.”

The task force’s recommendations will be evaluated by state legislators who will propose policies that should be adopted by the Legislative Assembly and enacted by Newsom.

“We know the legislature is going to do whatever it wants,” Moore said. “Why shouldn’t we go as far as possible? »

Gloria Pierrot-Dyer during the public comment portion of the reparations task force meeting in Sacramento, Calif., on March 3, 2023. Paul Kitagaki Jr./Sacramento Bee/TNS via Getty Images

The agency “would pay perpetual special attention to the descendants of American slaves,” the president added, with a general counsel, a chief financial officer, a communications department, a genealogy branch and a research branch, among other resources.

What was the Freedman’s Bureau?

The short-lived but effective Freedmen’s Bureau was created by Congress shortly after the abolition of slavery in America and served the newly freed 4 million black Americans in finding clothing, food and shelter. , and helped with resettlement and medical assistance. The bureau opened offices in 15 Southern cities and border states, where it founded schools, legalized marriages, and oversaw land purchases, among many other services.

For the first three years, his ambition was to help former slaves become self-sufficient. He helped newly freed slaves get out of slavery by negotiating employment contracts, legalizing marriages, and locating lost relatives. It also provided food, housing, education and medical care to more than 4 million people, including poor whites and veterans displaced by war.

Its impact was significant before it disbanded in 1872 due to funding problems fueled by racial animosity. White Southerners, unhappy that blacks had been given the opportunity to create a stable life, exerted such pressure on the government that it disbanded the agency after just seven years.

The bureau has built a huge database of periods from slavery to Reconstruction, making it a valuable resource for genealogists and historians.

Members of the task force questioned the affordability of the business, saying it would be “extremely expensive to maintain”. But Moore responded by saying, “The scope of damage is large, so the scope of the solution should be as large.


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