Advertisement

Shirley Weber: ‘Godmother of reparations’

Share
Shirley Weber
Shirley Weber, photographed at the Los Angeles Times in El Segundo on Dec. 1.

In the triple-digit heat of summer, Thursdays in downtown Sacramento are usually quiet. But not on June 29 last year.

The March Fong Eu Secretary of State Building was jumpin’ like a Black church on Sunday, the joyous shouts from teary-eyed Black people impossible to ignore. But Shirley Weber, California’s secretary of state, tried to anyway during the final meeting of the state’s reparations task force.

Discover the changemakers who are shaping every cultural corner of Los Angeles. This week we bring you The Money, a collection of bankers, political bundlers, philanthropists and others whose deep pockets give them their juice. Come back each Sunday for another installment.

“Your work will forever live,” the Rev. Amos Brown, a task force member, told her. “God bless you.”

Advertisement

Weber, 75, has long been a force in Democratic politics, from the San Diego Board of Education to the state Assembly to her current role — a first for a Black woman. But lately, she has achieved near-rock-star status as something less official: The “godmother of reparations.”

It was her Assembly Bill 3121 that led California to do what Congress has refused to do — appoint a task force to study the lasting harms of slavery and recommend what compensation is owed for decades of systemically racist laws and policies. State lawmakers are now grappling with many pieces of proposed legislation stemming from the task force’s recommendations. It has been a hard, slow slog.

It’s work that has breathed new life into the national reparations movement, turning what many Americans had long seen as a joke into a serious, often inescapable policy discussion.

‘Your work will forever live.’

— The Rev. Amos Brown, a member of California’s reparations task force on Shirley Weber’s contributions

Inspired by California, New York and Illinois have created their own task forces. Cities across the country have done or are considering doing the same. Meanwhile, long buried stories of injustice, such as Bruce’s Beach, have been unearthed and addressed.

The timing of AB 3121 helped. Weber introduced it in February 2020, right before the COVID-19 pandemic and George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police — the combination sparking a national racial reckoning.

Advertisement

But what Weber did wasn’t just about timing; it also was about vision.

The same Thursday the reparations task force met for the final time, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down affirmative action policies at colleges and universities. Since then, corporate and nonprofit programs that benefit people of color have been targeted too.

So it’s notable that Weber has focused on harm, not race. Using her influence with the task force, she ensured that reparations would go not to “Black people,” but to people whose ancestors were enslaved. Legally, it’s the only way it can work. And in Sacramento, lawmakers have introduced a flurry of bills this year to ensure that it does.

“When you have done harm,” Weber said, “you have a responsibility to correct it. And to make sure it never happens again.”

    Advertisement