The Washington Post

By Gillian Brockell

October 1, 2020

Alvin Coffey took a wagon train to the California Gold Rush, hoping to mine enough gold to buy his and his family’s freedom. But his enslaver double-crossed him.

Archy Lee lost his freedom when the California Supreme Court ruled Lee’s former enslaver could reclaim his “property,” even in a free state.

Robert Perkins built a successful mining supply business near Sacramento after his enslaver returned to Mississippi without him. Then he was arrested.

Bridget “Biddy” Mason was enslaved in San Bernardino. When her enslavers wanted to take her with them to Texas, she knew she had to make a move.

These are just some of the hidden stories of slavery in California that may soon get new attention after Calif. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed a law Wednesday that will establish a task force to study the state’s role in slavery. The task force will make recommendations for reparations, a formal apology and how to educate the public about this history.

“California’s rich diversity is our greatest asset, and we won’t turn away from this moment to make right the discrimination and disadvantages that Black Californians and people of color still face,” Newsom said.

The law is the first of its kind for a state and had bipartisan support in the legislature. In February, the State Assembly passed a resolution apologizing for the state’s role in sending Japanese immigrants and Japanese Americans to internment camps during World War II.

“California has come to terms with many of its issues, but it has yet to come to terms with its role in slavery,” said Calif. Assemblywoman Shirley Weber (D), who wrote and sponsored the bill.

Though bipartisan, the measure has its critics. William Darity Jr., a Duke University economics professor and reparations expert, told the website Cal Matters that no single state could launch an action large enough to be called “reparations.