Reparations over formerly enslaved people has a long history: 4 essential reads on why the idea remains unresolved

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Published in Political News

The debate about reparations to descendants of enslaved people rages on.

In California, the state’s reparations task force has estimated that the descendants of former enslaved people living in California should receive a payment of $1.2 million per person.

While the issue of reparations is nothing new, California Governor Gavin Newsome created the task force in 2020 and called for it to offer solutions to the “structural racism and bias built into and permeating throughout our democratic and economic institutions.”

So far, Newsome has remained quiet on his task force’s recommendations and is awaiting its final report, expected on July 1, 2023.

Several scholars of U.S. slavery and the history of reparations have written articles explaining what the ongoing debate has been about since the idea first emerged after the Civil War. Here we spotlight four examples of those scholars’ work:

While researching his book “Making Whole What Has Been Smashed,” John Torpey learned that the idea of compensating freed slaves or their descendants has never really gained much traction in the United States.


A driving force behind the persistence of reparations talk is just how stark the racial differences remain, Torpey wrote.

Compared to whites, Torpey explained, “blacks tend to have lower educational attainment, rates of home ownership and life expectancy but higher rates of poverty, incarceration, unemployment and life-threatening diseases.”

As a result, the wealth gap between whites and Blacks remains very large, Torpey noted, “and wage inequality is likely making it worse.”

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