California's Reparations Task Force Could Implement A Freedman's Bureau

California’s Reparations Task Force has concluded its two-day public meeting geared toward compensating Black Americans affected by the legacy of slavery. But the nine-member body is a long way from the finish line, The Sacramento Bee reported.

The panel has until July 1, 2023, to submit a final report to the California Legislature. In the meantime, it is focused on gathering feedback and working out the report’s moving parts.

One of the key discussions of the recent meeting was the creation of a new state agency – a “freedmen’s bureau” to be the authority should reparations become a reality.

The idea for the proposed California American Freedmen Affairs Agency was inspired by an act of Congress on March 3, 1865. Back then, the federal government established a Freedmen’s Bureau to provide food, shelter, clothing, medical services and land to African Americans newly freed from enslavement. It also established schools, supervised contracts between freedmen and employers, and managed confiscated or abandoned lands.

Nearly 160 years later, California’s task force looks to create an agency with the power to implement reparations and have oversight to ensure its many goals are met.

The could include implementing programs and policies that benefit the quality of life for descendants of enslaved Blacks. It could also provide services to the descendant community through contracts, grants or partnerships with community-based organizations, private entities and other local, state and federal agencies.

The proposed state freedmen’s bureau could include different branches to cover different areas reparations, such as confirming genealogy for eligibility of services. Other branches might handle legal affairs, data and research, social services, family affairs, medical/psychological services and business affairs for entrepreneurship. 

The state agency would implement direct services in the areas where they are most needed. In places where existing services and programs already exist, the agency would provide oversight.

Five harms committed against Black Americans identified by the task force will likely impact how they ultimately calculate a dollar amount for reparations.

Those harms include:

Properties taken unjustly through eminent domain from 1850 to 2020

Devaluation of Black businesses from 1850 to 2020

Housing discrimination and redlining from 1933 to 1977

Mass incarceration and over policing from 1970 to 2020

Harms related to health from 1900 to 2000

The creation of the original Freedman’s Bureau was established by an act of Congress on March 3, 1864, two months before Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrender to the Union’s Ulysses S. Grant and Appomattox Court House, Virginia, effectively ending the Civil War, wrote.

Intended as a temporary agency to last the duration of the war and one year afterward, the bureau was placed under the authority of the War Department and the majority of its original employees were Civil War soldiers.

The Freedman’s Bureau, formally known as the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, was established in 1865 by Congress to help millions of former Black slaves and poor whites in the South in the aftermath of the Civil War.

The Freedmen’s Bureau provided food, housing, and medical aid, established schools and offered legal assistance. It also attempted to settle former slaves on land confiscated or abandoned during the war. However, the bureau was prevented from fully carrying out programs due to a shortage of funds and personnel, along with the politics of race and Reconstruction.

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