California might be home to an 1860s agency that assisted newly-freed Blacks

The California Reparations Task Force will recommend an updated version of the Freedman's Bureau to administer any potential reparations programs.

The California Reparations Task Force recommended that a modernized version of the Freedmen’s Bureau be revived. This agency was established in 1865 to aid previously enslaved Blacks. It will administer any benefits related with reparations in California.

The governor appointed a nine-member California taskforce. Gavin Newsom has been studying for two years the extent of the damage inflicted on the state by racism. The task force, chaired by Kamilah Moore, recommended a state agency called Freedom Affairs Agency. It would function in a similar way to the Freedmen’s Bureau.

According to the task force, its recommendations for reparations included monetary compensation and programs to address systemic inequalities that have existed for a long time. Both the task force as well as the people who attended the public hearings were concerned about the central oversight of these proposals.

A man who traveled from Hayward (about 90 miles south of Sacramento) to tell the task force that he needed to be held responsible for these programs said, “We need those programs you’re discussing to be held accountable.” “The last thing that we need is this to be a scam or people lining their pockets.

State legislators will evaluate the recommendations of the task force and propose policies that will need to be adopted by the Legislature and signed by Newsom.

Moore stated that “we know the Legislature will do what it wishes.” Moore said, “Why not we make it as big as possible?”

Gloria Pierrot-Dyer at the public comment section of the Reparations Task Force meeting, Sacramento, Calif. on March 3, 2023. Paul Kitagaki Jr.

The chairperson stated that the agency would provide “permanent special consideration to descendants from American slaves”, and included a general counsel, chief finance officer, communications department, and a genealogy arm, as well as other resources.

What was the Freedman’s Bureau exactly?

Congress established the short-lived, but highly effective Freedmen’s Bureau shortly after America abolished slavery. It helped 4 million newly freed Black Americans find food, shelter, clothing, and other assistance, as well as helping with relocation and medical aid. It established offices in 15 cities in the South and border states. There it helped to establish schools, legalize marriages, and oversee land purchases.

Its initial three-year mission was to help the former enslaved become self-reliant. The newly freed were assisted in their escape from slavery by negotiating labor agreements, legalizing marriages, and finding lost relatives. It provided housing, food, and medical care for more than 4,000,000 people, including veterans and poor whites.

Its impact was significant before it was was disbanded in 1872 due to funding problems fueled by racial animus. The White Southerners were upset that Blacks were given opportunities to build a stable existence. They put so much pressure on government that it removed the agency after only seven years.

It created a huge database that covered the period of slavery through Reconstruction. This made it a valuable resource for historians and genealogists .

Task members were skeptical about the feasibility of the undertaking and said it would be “extremely costly to maintain.” Moore replied that the “reach of the solution” should be the same.

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