SACRAMENTO, California (AP) – Eleven U.S. mayors, from Los Angeles to tiny Tullahassee, Oklahoma, pledged to pay slavery reparations to a small group of black residents in their cities, saying their goal is to set an example by federal government on how the national program might work.
The mayors had no details on how much it would cost, who would pay for it, or how people would be chosen. All those details would be worked out with the help of local commissions made up of representatives of black-led organizations created to advise the mayor of each city. But mayors say they are committed to paying for repairs rather than just talking about them.
“African Americans don’t need another study that’s on a shelf,” said St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones, the city’s first black mayor and a member of the group. “We need decisive action to address the racial wealth gap holding communities back across our country.”
The effort comes as June 16, which marks the end of slavery in the United States, has become a federal holiday. President Joe Biden signed a bill Thursday that was approved by Congress to set aside June 16, or June 19, as a holiday.
Slavery officially ended in the United States in 1865 with the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. But its effects have lasted well beyond that, contributing to disparities in wealth and health between white and black populations.
Since 1989, legislators in Congress have presented a bill that would form a commission to study and develop proposals for reparations in the United States. But it has never happened. Last year, California became the first state to establish its own repair commission. That group held its first meeting earlier this month.
Friday’s announcement marks the city’s biggest effort to pay for repairs to date, but it isn’t the first. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted in march appoint a 15-member African American Reparations Advisory Committee. That same month, the Evanston, Illinois City Council, voted to pay $ 400,000 for eligible black households, as part of a commitment to spend $ 10 million over the next 10 years. Qualifying households would receive $ 25,000 to use for things like home repairs or making a down payment on the property.
Last year, the Asheville, North Carolina City Council, voted to approve the repairs in the form of investments in areas of disparity for black residents.
This group of mayors, nicknamed Mayors Organized for Reparations and Equity (MORE), is led by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock. Their stated goal is for these reparations programs “to serve as high-profile demonstrations of how the country can more quickly move from conversation to action on reparations for African Americans,” according to the group’s website.
“Let me be clear: cities will never have the funds to pay for repairs on our own,” Garcetti said during a news conference Friday to announce the group. “When city labs show that there is much more to embrace than fear, we know that we can also inspire national action.”
It is similar to the goal of another group of mayors who have experimented with guaranteed income programs, where a small group of low-income people receive cash payments each month with no restrictions on how they can spend it. The first such program was established in Stockton, California, by former Mayor Michael Tubbs, who is listed as a “member emeritus” of the repair group.
The other mayors are Jorge Elorza of Providence, Rhode Island; Steve Adler from Austin, Texas; Steve Schewel from Durham, NC: Esther Manheimer from Asheville, NC: Quinton Lucas from Kansas City; Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento, California; Melvin Carter of St. Paul, Minnesota; and Keisha Currin of Tullahassee, Oklahoma.
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Tullahassee, a small city of fewer than 200 in northeastern Oklahoma, is the oldest of the all-black cities to survive in the states that were founded after the United States abolished slavery. Many of the first black people to live there had been enslaved by Native American tribes that had allied with the Confederacy during the Civil War.
“Slavery has played a huge role in my family and in my community,” Currin said. “This program will show our community that we care.”