California Governor Gavin Newsom (D) signed legislation on Wednesday that will establish a nine-member state task force to study slavery and explore the potential avenues for reparations for African Americans.
“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,” said Newsom in a statement Wednesday afternoon.
“California’s rich diversity is our greatest asset, and we won’t turn away from this moment to make right the discrimination and disadvantages that Black Californians and people of color still face. While there is still so much work to do to unravel this legacy, these pieces of legislation are important steps in the right direction to building a more inclusive and equitable future for all,” added the governor.
Assemblymember Shirley Weber (D), the author of the legislation, argued in a statement Wednesday that California hasn’t “come to terms” with its historical role as it pertains to slavery.
“California has historically led the country on civil rights, yet we have not come to terms with our state’s ugly past that allowed slaveholding within our borders and returned escaped slaves to their masters,” said Weber.
The California constitution, passed in 1849, explicitly outlawed slavery and the region was admitted to the union as a free state in 1850. The Los Angeles Times reports that slavery continued in California even after it entered the union, but does not provide figures or estimates as to how extensive slavery was during this time.
Weber was the force behind a recent law that will require hundreds of thousands of students in the California State University system to complete an ethnic studies requirement before graduating, starting in the 2023-2024 school year.
Newsom also signed legislation Wednesday that his office says will aim “to eliminate discrimination in jury selection” and prohibit the “use of race, ethnicity, or national origin to seek or obtain convictions or impose sentences” in the court system.
Governor Newsom signed:#AB3121 establishing task force to study & make proposals on reparations for slavery#AB2542 prohibiting use of race, ethnicity or national origin to seek or obtain convictions or impose sentences#AB3070 aims to eliminate discrimination in jury selection pic.twitter.com/1IZXRVb7pw
— Office of the Governor of California (@CAgovernor) September 30, 2020
Joined in a public video call by a number of California lawmakers and the rapper Ice Cube, the governor called the pieces of legislation particularly timely because of the presidential debate the evening before, although he didn’t elaborate on the comment.
— Ice Cube (@icecube) September 30, 2020