Following an announcement in March that city officials in Evanston, Illinois would begin paying qualifying city residents up to $25,000 in reparations for use on property payments and home repair, and fresh off the government’s announcement of Juneteenth becoming a federal holiday, mayors in 11 additional U.S. cities have announced their own pilot projects to start reparation payments to residents in their home cities.
The Associated Press’ Adam Beam has reported that “11 U.S. mayors — from Los Angeles to tiny Tullahassee, Oklahoma — have pledged to pay reparations for slavery to a small group of Black residents in their cities, saying they aim to set an example for the federal government on how a nationwide program could work.”
According to Beam, with the proclamations in place and programs underway, details of how much these reparations would cost, who would pay them, and how recipients would be chosen will now be worked out with the help of local commissions made up of representatives from Black-led organizations and mayoral advisory committees within each city.
In a statement following the announcement on Friday, June 18, St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones, the city’s first Black female mayor and a member of the group, said, “Black Americans don’t need another study that sits on a shelf. We need decisive action to address the racial wealth gap holding communities back across our country.”
As historians, economic experts and politicians have pointed out for decades, even after slavery in the United States ended in 1865, its effects continued to linger, setting up massive disparities in wealth and health between Black and white individuals, often within the same geographic location.
As far back as 1989, Congressional lawmakers began introducing legislation designed to study the problem and figure out how to help solve the disparities — including the idea of federally approved reparations to certain members of the population — but those laws never gained significant traction to pass in the Senate or the House.
According to Beam, California became the first state to set up its own reparations commission in 2020 and held its first meeting earlier this month. Beam said the new mayoral effort between the 11 cities, dubbed Mayors Organized for Reparations and Equity (MORE), “marks the largest city-led effort at paying reparations to date.”
MORE is led by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock. The coalition also includes mayors Jorge Elorza of Providence, Rhode Island; Steve Adler of Austin, Texas; Steve Schewel of Durham, North Carolina: Esther Manheimer of Asheville, North Carolina: Quinton Lucas of Kansas City; Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento, California; Melvin Carter of St. Paul, Minnesota; and Keisha Currin of Tullahassee, Oklahoma.
According to their website, the group’s stated goal is to ‘serve as high-profile demonstrations for how the country can more quickly move from conversation to action on reparations for Black Americans.”
In a news conference announcing the group, Garcetti said, “Let me be clear: Cities will never have the funds to pay for reparations on our own. When we have the laboratories of cities show that there is much more to embrace than to fear, we know that we can inspire national action as well.”
According to Currin, mayor of the smallest city in the MORE (the population of Tullahassee in northeast Oklahoma is less than 200 people), the need for help for Black citizens in smaller rural areas is incredible. Tullahassee is one of the oldest surviving all-Black towns founded after the U.S. abolished slavery, and many of its citizens had been enslaved by Native American tribes that aligned with the South during the Civil War.
Currin said, “slavery has played a huge part in my family and in my community. This program is going to show our community that we care.”