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California should repay Black people who were forcibly removed from their homes for public projects, eliminate unnecessary employment barriers for those with criminal records and prevent redistricting from diluting Black votes, a state task force recommended in a long-awaited report released Wednesday, June 1.

The task force, which officials have described as a first-in-the nation effort, released its initial report about a year after it began working to catalog the history of discrimination against Black people – both nationally and in California – and develop reparation proposals for African Americans.

The final report is due to the state Legislature by July 1, 2023.

But at 500 pages, and with a trove of endnotes, the report is a scathing historical indictment of how systemic racism in the United States and California has harmed Black people for generations – politically, economically, environmentally and educationally.

The task force also recommended myriad ways the state could pay reparations for, or otherwise work to rectify the harm caused by, the discrimination Black people faced across those various aspects of society.

“California was not a passive actor in perpetuating these harms,” said California Attorney General Rob Bonta. “This interim report is a historic step by the State of California to acknowledge the insidious effects of slavery and ongoing systemic discrimination, recognize the state’s failings, and move toward rectifying the harm.”

The report, from the California Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans, was more than two years in the making.

Secretary of State Shirley Weber, while still a state Assemblywoman, introduced the bill to create the task force in February 2020.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 3121 in September of that year.

In between the bill’s introduction and signing, the nation experienced a renewed focus on systemic racism in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in May 2020

Protests swept through the country, including in Southern California. Multiple cities, including Long Beach, declared systemic racism a public health crisis and others worked to reform policing practices.

But it was California, officials have said, that became the first in the U.S. to create a specific path toward potentially making reparations.

Since then, cities and universities nationwide have worked to do the same. Last year, the Chicago suburb of Evanston, Illinois, became the first U.S. town to make reparations available to Black residents.

California’s task force, meanwhile, began its work in June 2021.

It worked to record testimony from Black people, collect information about specific incidents from around the state and gather suggestions from experts.

It’s recommendations include:

But the most comprehensive part of the initial report is a detailed accounting of slavery’s devastating-yet-enduring legacy on African Americans. That legacy, the report says, has resulted in environmental and infrastructural racism, separate and unequal education, housing segregation and an enduring wealth gap.

Even in the Golden State.

Black Californians, for example, make less money and are more likely to be low-income than White residents, the report says. And in 2019, 59% of White households owned their homes, compared with 35% of Black Californians.

Black people are also incarcerated at much higher rates, have more fast food restaurants in their neighborhoods and live in more polluted areas than White people, according to state figures.

“Four hundred years of discrimination,” the report says, “has resulted in an enormous and persistent wealth gap between Black and white Americans.”

Housing discriminationThe preliminary report is not vague about the history of discrimination in California, which today has the fifth-higest population of Black people in the country.

It catalogs dozens of examples of systemic racism over the decades from across the state, including in Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Orange and Riverside counties.

Perhaps the highest-profile example the reports cites is Bruce’s Beach – a story that has also had history-making moments over the last year.

In 1912, Willa Bruce, who was Black, bought oceanfront property in Manhattan Beach. She operated Bruce’s Beach Lodge, a seaside resort for African Americans, on that site into the 1920s.

But the lodge and other Black residents drew the ire of some White people in the community. Historical accounts show White residents slashed tires, set fires and created fake parking restrictions so the Bruce family would move – and to deter other Black families and beachgoers from coming to the area.

City officials condemned the property in 1924 through eminent domain, saying Manhattan Beach urgently needed a public park.

The Bruces sued for $120,000 but only received $14,500 for their lost property, enterprise and income. The city, meanwhile, didn’t build a park until the 1950s.

Last year, the state Legislature enacted a law to allow Los Angeles County, which currently owns the land of which the former lodge once sat, to return the two parcels to the Bruce family’s descendants.

The parameters of that land transfer, which is set to be completed this year, is still being determined — including whether the heirs want to lease the land to the county or explore other other options.

Still, the ongoing effort – catalyzed by local activists during a Juneteenth celebration in 2020 – appears to be the closest action to reparations undertaken in California.

“Bruce’s Beach is one of many examples in our state’s history where Black residents were denied land, wealth, and opportunity, and the impacts are still being felt generations later,” L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn, who spearheaded the legislative effort to deed that land to the Bruce descendants, said in a Wednesday statement. “We will never be able to make up for what Black people in this country have gone through, but we need to start trying to right these wrongs.”

Indeed, the task force’s report said, such practices were common, with the construction of parks nationwide often used to harm Black or integrated neighborhoods, forcing African Americans to resettle in segregated areas.

Parks were sometimes used as barriers between Black and White neighborhoods, the report said.

Black neighborhoods lacked green spaces, the report added, and Black people were five times more likely from 1949 to 1973 to be displaced by eminent domain than White people.

Historian Alison Rose Jefferson, the author of “Living the California Dream: African American Leisure Sites during the Jim Crow Era,” testified at a December task force hearing, detailing her research on those sites, including Bruce’s Beach and a 1920s Black community in Santa Monica.

“African Americans were developing these places so they could enjoy California’s offerings without the harassment of racism of the time,” Jefferson said in a Wednesday interview.

But in 1922, a Black investment group was blocked from developing a resort and amusement park along the Santa Monica oceanfront, the report said. White developers later bought the land and built the Casa del Mar and the Edgewater clubs there.

Black investors in 1958 were also unable to build a planned membership-based club in Santa Monica, according to the report, because the city took over the land through eminent domain – apparently, for a parking lot.

“We as African Americans in Southern California, who are descendants of people who were here at that time, lost out too,” Jefferson said. “So, there need to be things that encourage our ability to get to the beach, live by the beach, develop businesses and get jobs.”

Jefferson said she hopes the state Legislature will take action and implement the task force’s suggestions, and that city and county governments will be inspired to address their own policies.

Even offers of commemorative justice, like the Belmar History and Art project in Santa Monica, which honors the city’s dismantled Black community, are important, she said.

“We need a lot of different kinds of things to make our lives better,” Jefferson said.

But it’s not only that, she added. Rather, implementing policies recommended in the report “makes everybody lives better,” she Jeffer said, “not just Black people.”

EducationIn 1943, Sylvia Mendez and her brothers were barred from enrolling in their local Westminster school – and instead were told to go to a nearby “Mexican school.”

Their father, Gonzalo Mendez, and four other Mexican American dads spearheaded a class-action lawsuit known as Mendez v. Westminster, which resulted in school segregation laws in California being repealed.

The case was a precursor to Brown v. Board of Education, and opened opportunities for many in the state.

“It allowed me to attend school with the rest of my friends and neighbors,” said former Westminster Councilman and school board member Sergio Contreras, “and made it possible for the son of a janitor to go to school, go to college, earn my master’s and be able to uplift myself out of poverty.”

But local cities and school boards, the task force’s report says, “refused to take proactive steps to desegregate schools,” even after the Mendez case.

The lingering consequences of that are clear.

Contreras knows from experience.

He serves as executive director of a United Way initiative in Orange County, which helps students from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds – mostly in Anaheim, Santa Ana, and Garden Grove – graduate on time and offers internships and other services to youth. He said there’s still much to be done.

“It’s hard to get companies to open their doors,” he said, “and give these students from these districts opportunities to experience careers that will lift them out of poverty.”

The task force, however, offers several suggestions to help break those barriers, such as providing free tuition to California colleges and universities, and funding African American-owned and controlled K-12 schools, colleges and universities.

‘Racial terror’The initial report also details the “racial terror” Black people have faced in California.

The Ku Klux Klan, for example, gained popularity throughout Southern California in the 1920s.

In 1924, four of the five men who won Anaheim City Council seats were KKK members, said Jane Newell, the Anaheim Public Library’s heritage services manager.

The Inland Empire was also thick with KKK members a century ago, professor Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino, wrote in an email.

Wednesday’s report also mentioned the Klan’s political and social stronghold in Riverside County. By the 1920s, the KKK’s Riverside chapter reportedly had more than 2,000 members and sympathy from some law enforcement.

When Riverside agreed to desegregate a White-only pool, KKK members terrorized Black swimmers, the report said. Even as the KKK’s local membership declined, as late as 1930, the group still made public appearances and burned crosses.

But discrimination lasted well after KKK membership declined.

After the Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education ruled segregation in schools unconstitutional, Riverside Unified School District’s efforts to integrate schools were sometimes met with violence, according to the task force. At one point, an elementary school in the minority-heavy Eastside neighborhood was burned down.

Deputy sheriffs threatened the Short family in 1945 after they moved into a house they’d built in a White neighborhood in Fontana, the report said. They were told to move back to their segregated Black neighborhood, according to the report, and weeks after moving in, the family was attacked by a “vigilante committee.”

A fire engulfed their house.

Neighbors reported seeing Helen Short, the family’s matriarch, try to beat down the flames consuming her children, the report said.

Helen Short and both children died in the hospital. The San Bernardino County Coroner and District Attorney deemed the explosion an accident, the report said.

Such terror continues today, the report said.

“Today, police violence against and extrajudicial killings of African Americans,” the report said, “occur in California in the same manner as they do in the rest of the country.”

To view the task force’s entire report and recommendations, go to

The Associated Press, staff writers Roxana Kopetman, Alicia Robinson, Beau Yarbrough  Allyson Vergara and Kristy Hutchings contributed to this report

This content was originally published here.

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