San Francisco ponders reparations for Black residents

San Francisco's African American Reparations Advisory Committee is preparing to present its initial report to that city's supervisors.

Last month San Francisco's African American Reparations Advisory Committee presented its first draft looking at the idea of how a legacy of racism has harmed San Francisco's Black community and what can and should be done to address those wrongs. 

Committee Chair Eric McDonnell says despite the city's reputation for being progressive, past policies have systematically disenfranchised black residents. 

"Fundamentally, what was stolen from Black people in America was a path to financial well-being," McDonnell said.

The committee points to past policies on housing; redevelopment plans that decimated thriving businesses in majority black communities, as well as inequities in policing and in education. All of which the committee says worked together to erode opportunities for African Americans. 


"Being segregated to certain parts of the city, they were met here and not given eligibility for certain kinds of jobs…without being able to start their own businesses," said McDonnell. "So all of these impediments to doing what every other American or in this case, San Franciscan, wanted to be able to do."

Since the initial report, many have focused on one of the committee's recommendations that qualifying African Americans should receive one-time payments of $5 million but less has been made of the reasons behind the committee's work, and where the city goes from here. 

"For better or for worse, whether it's the $5 million payment or it's the others, it's 'committee tell us how to do it,'" said McDonnell. "And my and our response is that is not our charge. Our charge was to present the evidence and justifications for these proposals."

Noble Pierce says in the seven decades he's called San Francisco home, he's seen the inequity of opportunities firsthand. 

"Of course reparations would be a good idea, you know what I mean," said Pierce. "All the promises that our people had over the years. You know, the chicken in every pot and 20 acres and a mule and all those lies."

Kenny Underwood says for generations, Black Americans were limited in how they could act on an economic level. Reparations are an idea whose time has come. 

"Am I saying that it's going to be a solution to fix all the social ills that racism created? No," said Underwood. "But, do I think it can help provide some economic equality as a city and as a country? Yes, most definitely."

The reparations committee says their initial proposal is the start of an important conversation. McDonnell says similar discussions have happened in the past; this committee is including language in their proposal aimed at getting the Board of Supervisors to take action one way or another. 

"Even if the something is, and obviously this is extreme, we don't want or expect this. But even if 'we've read it, and it's all not feasible,'" said McDonnell.

The committee is set to present its initial findings to the board of Supervisors in mid-March, and issue a final report in June.