A mural honoring the history of Russell City in what is now Hayward.Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times
When Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill in 2020 to create a statewide panel to study and recommend ways to implement reparations for Black Californians, many lauded it as an overdue step toward racial justice.
“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,” Shirley Weber, a Democrat from San Diego who sponsored the legislation in the Assembly, said in a statement at the time. Newsom’s signature on the bill, she added, “once again demonstrates that our state is dedicated to leading the nation on confronting and addressing systemic injustice.”
Recently, I took a step-back look at what California has done in the two years after the measure was signed.
For months, a nine-member task force has traveled between Los Angeles and San Francisco to learn about the generational effects of racist policies and actions — research that will help them devise proposals for concrete restitution to address the enduring economic effects of slavery and racism.
“We are looking at reparations on a scale that is the largest since Reconstruction,” Jovan Scott Lewis, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who is a member of the task force, told me.
Next year, the panel will release a report to lawmakers in Sacramento outlining recommendations for state-level reparations.
While many details remain unclear, the task force has decided that the Californians eligible will be descendants of enslaved African Americans or of a “free Black person living in the United States prior to the end of the 19th century.”
Nearly 6.5 percent of California residents, roughly 2.5 million people, identify as Black or African American. But in recent decades, the percentage has decreased — it was 7.4 percent in 1990 — as immigrants from Latin America and Asia have become a larger share of the state’s population and as some Black Californians have moved to cities like Las Vegas and Phoenix in search of a more affordable cost of living.
As I followed the work of the panel in recent months, I heard many stories of redlining and lost property, sometimes laid out in emotional testimony at community meetings.
A preliminary report by the task force this year outlined how a so-called blight law from 1945 paved the way for officials to use eminent domain to destroy Black communities, including shuttering more than 800 businesses and displacing 4,700 households in San Francisco’s Western Addition beginning in the 1950s.
More on California
- Jaywalking Law: California has had one of the strictest jaywalking laws in the nation. Starting Jan. 1, that will no longer be the case.
- Remaking a River: Taming the Los Angeles River helped Los Angeles emerge as a global megalopolis, but it also left a gaping scar across the territory. Imagining the river’s future poses new challenges.
- A Piece of Black History Destroyed: Lincoln Heights — a historically Black community in a predominantly white, rural county in Northern California — endured for decades. Then came the Mill fire.
- Employee Strike: In one of the nation’s biggest strikes in recent years, teaching assistants, researchers and other workers across the University of California system walked off the job to demand higher pay.
That report led me to the site of Russell City, for decades an unincorporated parcel of Alameda County near the San Francisco Bay shoreline, where many Black families fleeing racial terror in the Deep South built lives during the Great Migration. Russell City was annexed into Hayward in the 1960s, and the city and county bought up some properties and seized others through eminent domain.
Amid the uproar in 2020 over the murder of George Floyd, a Hayward resident named Artavia Berry knew she had to do something.
“We could not look away from what happened right here,” said Berry, who learned the history of Russell City after moving to the region a decade ago.
Berry, who leads the Community Services Commission, a municipal advisory body, composed a formal apology from the City of Hayward to onetime residents of Russell City. Last year, the City Council approved a resolution including the apology, as well as several follow-up steps.
“Russell City is one of many stories of tragedy and loss experienced by Black families all across this state,” she told me. “We cannot as a society turn away from it.”
Read Kurtis’s full article in The Times.
Kurtis Lee is an economics correspondent, based in Los Angeles.
If you read one story, make it this
Computer science students are facing a shrinking Big Tech job market.
The rest of the news
Big Oil: Gov. Gavin Newsom introduced a proposal in the State Legislature that could make California the first state to fine oil companies for exorbitant profits, The Associated Press reports.
Winter in the west: Severe drought areas of California are seeing more than double their regular snowpack after two back-to-back snow storms pelted the region, CNN reports.
Michael Avenatti: The lawyer known for representing the pornographic film actress Stormy Daniels in lawsuits against former President Donald J. Trump was sentenced to 14 years in prison for stealing millions of dollars from his clients and avoiding taxes.
Teachers’ union raise: The Los Angeles teachers’ union is pressing its demand for a 20 percent raise over two years, The Los Angeles Times reports.
HBO Max: HBO Max is back on Amazon Prime Video in the U.S., a little more than a year after its departure, The Los Angeles Times reports.
Case dropped: District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp of Fresno County called the case against the Fresno City Council president, Nelson Esparza, “a complete waste of everybody’s time,” The Fresno Bee reports.
Conservation efforts: The Pomo Indian tribes of Clear Lake urged Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to enact the federal Endangered Species Act on behalf of a sacred minnow on the verge of going extinct, The Los Angeles Times reports.
Campus security: Yogananda Pittman, the former acting head of the U.S. Capitol Police following the Jan. 6, 2021, riot, will be the new chief of campus police at the University of California, Berkeley, The Associated Press reports.
What you get
For $2.7 million: A Mediterranean-style house in Altadena, a three-bedroom retreat in Palm Springs and a Spanish-style home in Carmel-by-the-Sea.
What we’re eating
Where we’re traveling
Today’s tip comes from Allen Brown, who lives in Mt. Shasta:
Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to [email protected]. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.
We’re writing about how Californians celebrate the holidays. Do you relax by the beach, visit Disneyland or make tamales with your family? Maybe you always travel to a special spot within the Golden State.
Email us at [email protected] your California holiday traditions and memories. Please include your name and the city where you live.
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And before you go, some good news
The results are in: Michelin added 18 restaurants to its California guide, including one new three-star restaurant in San Diego and 17 new one-star restaurants across the state. The star announcements came at a live event held Sunday at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles.
Among the 89 new and continuing picks on the list of Michelin-starred restaurants in California are Orsa & Winston in downtown Los Angeles, Nisei in San Francisco and Bell’s in Los Alamos.
Thanks for reading. We’ll be back tomorrow.
P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword.
Soumya Karlamangla, Briana Scalia and Isabella Grullón Paz contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].