During its most recent hearing, the California Reparations Task Force voted to recommend reviving a modern version of the Freedmen’s Bureau, a comprehensive agency created in 1865 to assist previously enslaved blacks, to administer any reparations-related benefits in the state.

The nine-member California task force, comprised of Governor Gavin Newsom, has been investigating for two years the depth of the damage inflicted by racism in the state and beyond. During a public hearing earlier this month in Sacramento, the task force agreed with Chair Kamilah Moore to recommend a state agency called the Freedom Affairs Agency that would function similarly to the Freedommen’s Bureau.

The task force said its recommendations for reparations would include monetary compensation and the installation of programs to address longstanding systemic inequities. Establishing centralized oversight of these proposals was a major concern of both the task force and those who attended the public hearings.

“We need to hold these programs that you talk about to account,” a man who had traveled from Hayward, about 90 miles south of Sacramento, told the task force. “The last thing we need is for this to be a scam and for people to line their pockets.”

The task force’s recommendations will be considered by state lawmakers who will propose policies that would need to be approved by the Legislature and signed into law by Newsom.

“We know the Legislature will do what they want,” Moore said. «Why shouldn’t we go as big as possible?»

Gloria Pierrot-Dyer during the public comment portion of the Remedies Task Force meeting in Sacramento, California on March 3, 2023. Paul Kitagaki Jr./Sacramento Bee/TNS via Getty Images

The agency would “provide perpetual special consideration to the descendants of American slaves,” the president added, with a general counsel, chief financial officer, communications department, genealogy arm and research branch, among other resources.

What was the Freedmen’s Bureau?

Congress established the short-lived but effective Freedmen’s Bureau shortly after slavery was abolished in the United States, serving the 4 million newly freed black Americans in finding clothing, food, and shelter, and assisting with relocation and medical assistance. The bureau set up offices in 15 southern cities and border states, where it founded schools, legalized marriages and oversaw land purchases, among many other services.

For the first three years, his ambition was to help the formerly enslaved become self-sufficient. He helped the newly freed transition out of slavery by negotiating employment contracts, legalizing marriages, and locating lost relatives. He also provided food, shelter, education, and health care to more than 4 million people, including poor whites and displaced war veterans.

Its impact was significant before it was dissolved in 1872 due to funding problems fueled by racial animosity. White southerners, upset that blacks were given opportunities to create a stable life, put so much pressure on the government that dissolved the agency after only seven years.

The office built an enormous database from the periods of slavery to Reconstruction, making it a prized resource for genealogists and historians.

Task members questioned the affordability of the company, saying it would be «extremely expensive to maintain.» But Moore responded by saying, «The scope of the damage is large, so the scope of the fix should be just as large.»

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