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State Assembly Passes Bill Apologizing for California's Role in Supporting Slavery

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Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), author of AB 3089, during an interview on KQED's Political Breakdown on Sept. 7, 2023 in Sacramento. (Guy Marzorati/KQED)

California’s state Assembly voted Thursday to offer a formal apology for the state’s role in supporting chattel slavery, marking a key milestone in the first-in-the-nation effort to provide state-level reparations to Black Californians.

The idea for an apology was born from the state’s Reparations Task Force, which studied the harms committed by the state government against Black residents and published dozens of policy recommendations for the Legislature. The apology bill, Assembly Bill 3089, requires an acknowledgment of the actions of members of the state’s government in advancing slavery and decades of discriminatory policies — and requires a plaque memorializing the apology to be installed at the state Capitol.

“We cannot possibly move forward without acknowledging our role in evil behavior,” said Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), the bill’s author.


The Assembly approved the bill 62–0, with a dozen of the chamber’s 17 Republican members not voting. After the final vote, members broke out in applause and walked over to congratulate Jones-Sawyer, who served on the Reparations Task Force and is in his final term in the Legislature.

“Even though our state entered the union as a free state, every branch of government has had a hand in perpetrating the oppression of Black folks,” Jones-Sawyer said. “This bill is an opportunity to confront those tough truths in a meaningful way.”

Before the vote, legislators recounted the role state lawmakers played in advancing chattel slavery during the state’s early days. In 1852, the state Assembly passed California’s fugitive slave law, which allowed enslavers to recapture formerly enslaved people they had brought to California before the state’s entrance into the union — and forcibly remove them to slaveholding states in the South.

A leading supporter of the fugitive slave bill in the state Senate, Sen. James Estill, owned fourteen slaves on his Solano County farm.

And in 1854, the state Legislature approved a non-binding resolution supporting the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the explosive federal law allowing the expansion of slavery nationwide into U.S. territories.

“It is undeniable that our systems of government have been complicit in the oppression of African-Americans,” Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas (D-Hollister) said. “Our courts, our schools, even this Legislature. California’s history is tarnished by the subjugation of Black people.”

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AB 3089 now heads to the state Senate. The bill is one of more than a dozen included in a reparations package of bills supported by the California Legislative Black Caucus. Earlier this year, the state Assembly approved a resolution acknowledging many of the harms inflicted by state leaders against Black residents.

Other bills in the reparations package are focused on repairing that harm, including proposals to compensate Black residents for land taken by eminent domain and another requiring state licensing boards to prioritize Black applicants.

Those bills and a handful of others cleared a key hurdle on Thursday, winning the backing of the Legislature’s powerful appropriations committees. But two other reparations-related proposals were quietly shelved.

Senate Bill 1007 and Senate Bill 1013 would take a first step toward providing homeowner assistance and property tax relief, respectively, to the descendants of slaves. Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena) wrote both bills, but the Black Caucus designated neither as a priority bill for its members.

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