What does California owe the descendants of enslaved Africans? Its reparations task force is working that out

A man wearing a mask and sunglasses amongst a crowd holds up a sign that says: world leaders reparations for slavery now.
Los Angeles resident, Walter Foster, 80, holds up a sign during a California Reparations Task Force meeting at the California Science Center in Los Angeles on Sept. 23, 2022.
(Carolyn Cole /Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Wednesday, Dec. 14. I’m Ryan Fonseca.

You may have read that an effort is underway in the Golden State to determine what reparations could like for Californians who are descendants of enslaved Africans. But you may not know what the work looks like or where it stands.

A 2020 state bill created California’s Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans and the nine-member panel held its first meeting in June 2021.

Though the group’s work is still in its early stages, misleading claims about its recommendations are showing up in the media and online. I reached out to Kamilah Moore, who chairs the task force, to find out what’s happening behind the scenes.


She explained that, despite some reports citing specific dollar amounts, nothing has been decided yet. Final recommendations aren’t due until July 1, 2023.

So what has the group done so far? Moore says they spent the first year in a “study phase,” during which they heard personal accounts and expert testimony about the atrocities African Americans faced, dating back to the start of the slave trade. Their findings are catalogued in an interim report published in June.

“Now we’re entering into the development phase,” Moore told me this week. “We are beginning to — as a collective task force — discuss, debate [and] determine what those final recommendations might look like.”

While the June report includes some preliminary recommendations, there are no mention of any specific amount of monetary compensation. But Moore said compensation will be part of the task force’s final recommendations to state leaders.

Under international law, there are five forms of reparations, she explained:

  • Rehabilitation
  • Restitution
  • Compensation
  • Satisfaction
  • Guarantees of nonrepetition

“It’s part of our goal in terms of educating the California public — which includes legislators — that reparations isn’t reparations unless it includes all five of those forms,” Moore said.

Now that they’ve unpacked California’s role in anti-Black racism and slavery, Moore and her peers will spend the coming months discussing what reparatory justice for a portion of Black Californians (more on that below) should look like.


That process begins with two public meetings this week in Oakland — followed by more in San Diego, Sacramento and other communities — and culminating in the task force’s final report to California leaders at the beginning of July.

I talked with Moore about the task force’s work and what she thinks it means for racial justice in California. (The conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.)

Given California’s perception as a free state, I’m curious what you and the task force have learned about California’s role in anti-Black racism and slavery in America.

Moore: California had over 1,500 Black folks enslaved in the state at a point in time. They also enacted a fugitive slave act, which was actually much more aggressive than the federal Fugitive Slave Act.

Let’s say you were once a slave, or you moved to California. Due to that enactment of the Fugitive Slave Act, you could be deported back to the South to be re-enslaved, or you could also be enslaved on California soil. People say: “Oh, California was a free state.” That was really only in name. We need to get the word out that there were actually Black people in bondage in California — at least 1,500 — and we can name the names, too.

There were even instances where the legislature wanted to ban Black people from living in the state.


Regarding eligibility, what guided the task force’s determination?

If you look at the [AB 3121] statute itself, it describes the closed universe in terms of who is eligible for reparations. It‘s for freed African slaves in the United States and their descendants. That pretty much mandated us to go with the lineage-based approach rather than an all-Black-people approach.

And then second, Secretary [Shirley] Weber, who was the lead author of AB 3121, came to give testimony to the task force and essentially stated when she came up with this bill that she had a lineage approach in mind, not a race-based approach in mind.

How do you begin to answer a question like: “how much will it take to possibly begin to offset centuries of racial injustice?” And maybe that’s not the right question, but what sort of questions or goals are guiding you and your colleagues as you determine that?

You can’t really put a price on the African American experience in terms of the harm we’ve endured in the state and in this country.

At the same time, you can try. That’s why we hired a team of economists who are very well known and reputable in their field to help us figure it out. It’s a delicate rope that we’re walking. We were sensitive to the fact that the experience that African Americans have endured in this country is hard to quantify. But we also have a mandate to carry out.


The statute requires that any of our recommendations comport with international human rights law standards. We can’t say that we fulfilled our mandate without actually seriously studying what reparations in the form of compensation or money might look like — that’s literally a part of our job.

When I hear “reparations,” my mind goes to a “Chappelle Show” sketch that makes a joke out of the idea. That characterization obviously oversimplifies the process. Do you feel like the concept of reparations is misunderstood?

It’s so funny you brought up the Dave Chappelle skit, because this time last year, I actually tried to reach out to Dave Chappelle’s people because when people think about reparations, they do think about that Dave Chappelle skit. What would it look like to get Dave Chappelle on board in terms of shifting the narrative? Because what he put out into the ether 10, 20 years ago — that’s still sticking.

Reparations is very misunderstood. When you talk to actual African Americans [and ask]: “What would you do with reparations?” They’ll say: “I’ll start a business, I’ll help my family.” That’s what the narrative should be.

Where do reparations fall ideally, for you, as a remedy? It won’t solve racism in California, but where do you put it on that spectrum between treatment and cure?

My personal opinion is that reparations would not end anti-Black racism, just like reparations for Holocaust survivors did not end antisemitism or reparations for internment camp survivors did not end anti-Asian hate or sentiment.


I’m interested in the idea of what would it look like for an African American or “Freemen Affairs Office” — kind of similar to the Bureau of Indian Affairs on the federal level. What would it look like for like a designated, dedicated structure or structures throughout the state of California which would be a consistent resource hub, where the African American descendant communities will also be responsible for adjudicating and dispensing reparations claims.

That also pays homage to the Freedmen’s Bureau that once existed in this country on a federal level, but was dismantled in 1872, due to the reversal of reconstruction policies in this country. That Bureau was supposed to be in existence, really, in perpetuity — or until the issues plaguing freed African slaves and their descendants were resolved.

What excites you and what drives you in this work? Why is this important to you?

One dictate of reparatory justice under international law is that the victim group decides, no matter who the victim group is. They’re the one who are supposed to lead and determine what repair looks like to them.

What’s exciting to me is that it’s not enough for me and my other eight colleagues to really do this work — which we are honored and proud to do. We want to work alongside the descendant community, so that they can inform the work through public comment, through emailing us, through calling us — letting us know what repair and reparations looks like to them — and then we can figure out how to incorporate that into our final recommendation.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:


Note: Some of the sites we link to may limit the number of stories you can access without subscribing.


When the historic, infamous Cecil Hotel reopened last December as a privately run permanent supportive housing project, it was considered by some as a promising experiment to address the crisis of homelessness. But a year later, about two-thirds of the downtown L.A. hotel’s 600 rooms remain empty. Los Angeles Times

L.A. City Hall continues to be a contentious place this week. Pariah and City Councilmember Kevin de León showed up late to Tuesday’s City Council meeting, leading several of his peers to walk out. De León has resisted calls from residents and his colleagues to resign after he was captured on racist leaked audio recordings that spurned a probe by California’s attorney general. His presence caused a similar scene in council chambers last week, followed by a much-reported fight with protesters during a holiday event. Los Angeles Times

Check out "The Times" podcast for essential news and more

These days, waking up to current events can be, well, daunting. If you’re seeking a more balanced news diet, “The Times” podcast is for you. Gustavo Arellano, along with a diverse set of reporters from the award-winning L.A. Times newsroom, delivers the most interesting stories from the Los Angeles Times every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.


Efforts in San Francisco to open supervised drug use sites have been halted, putting the city’s supervisors at odds with the mayor’s office. A majority of city supervisors back a plan to launch 12 “wellness” hubs, where people would be allowed to use drugs while supervised by staff trained to reverse overdoses. Citing legal and logistical challenges, Mayor London Breed stalled the plan. A group of supervisors is now plans to introduce veto-proof legislation to fund the sites. San Francisco Chronicle

Should California rethink its referendum process? Critics say big industries take advantage of the state’s rules to stall and possibly overturn laws passed by the legislature and signed by the governor. Some interest groups pay workers to gather signatures, and if they get enough to qualify as a ballot measure, that can delay a passed law from taking effect until the measure goes to voters in a future election cycle. CalMatters


Support our journalism

Subscribe to the Los Angeles Times.


Don we now our face protection? With COVID and flu cases surging in L.A. County and elsewhere in the state, health officials are urging us to mask up again to reduce the risk of transmission. L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said this week: “If you’re going to an event such as a concert or a large Christmas party, there is now a higher likelihood that one or more persons at the event is infected, they could unknowingly infect you, and you in turn could unknowingly infect your friends, your co-workers or your family.” Los Angeles Times

California’s recent wet weather might give you a sunny disposition about the state of the state’s drought, but here’s a reality check. State water managers aren’t too hopeful, especially since a similar spate of early storms around this time last year was followed by the driest winter period in state history. CalMatters

Our neighborhood climate footprints have been visualized. Through research and methodology developed by UC Berkeley, an interactive map published by the New York Times shows average household emissions in every U.S. census tract. Perhaps not surprisingly, people who live in cities typically generate fewer emissions than suburban residents. Explore the map to see how California communities stack up (on average). New York Times


Christmastime in California brings season’s gloatings. Many of us can’t help but brag about the warmer, sunny days that (typically) take us through the holidays. These days we have Instagram, but Californians of Christmases passed did their gloating via postcards. Imagine freezing your butt off somewhere in the Midwest only to get a illustrated slap in the face from your cousin living it up out West. Now that’s cold. Los Angeles Times

After two years, Long Beach’s iconic Queen Mary is reopening for guided tours. The city has sunk a lot of money into the converted British ocean liner, making considerable repairs to keep the aging vessel afloat — literally. Los Angeles Times


Free online games

Get our free daily crossword puzzle, sudoku, word search and arcade games in our new game center at


Los Angeles: sunny, 61. San Diego: sunny, 61. San Francisco: mostly sunny, 53. San Jose: patchy frost and fog then mostly sunny, 55. Fresno: frost and dense fog then mostly sunny, 52. Sacramento: frost and fog then mostly sunny, 50.


Today’s California memory is from Paul Doane:

I moved to Santa Cruz, California, from New Hampshire in 1969. I rented a small cabin two blocks from the ocean for $70 a week. Tried my first Mexican food there and had a roommate from L.A. who came to surf at Steamer Lane. A short drive into the Santa Cruz mountains brought giant redwoods and gorgeous scenery. It was a whole new, exotic world that I loved. I could feel and almost hear the rioting going on at Berkeley. I met a lovely woman. After a year, my draft board summoned me back to New Hampshire, ending a superb year.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments to

Hey there, subscribers — our marketing team wants to hear from you. Fill out this short survey to help us keep sharing the stories that shape your world, free to your inbox.