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California Assembly Passes Apology for Slavery, Despite Entering Union as ‘Free State’

The California State Assembly voted Thursday to issue an apology for the state’s role in slavery — though California entered the Union as a “free state” in 1850.

The bill, AB 3089, was written by Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), and passed as the state legislature considers a variety of other “reparations” bills.

The legislation acknowledges that California banned slavery, but cites the state’s passage of a fugitive slave law, and other aspects of racial discrimination that were practiced in the state. Bay Area Public Radio station KQED noted:

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.

The text of the state’s apology reads as follows:

(a) The State of California recognizes and accepts responsibility for all of the harms and atrocities committed by the state, its representatives thereof, and entities under its jurisdiction who promoted, facilitated, enforced, and permitted the institution of chattel slavery and the enduring legacy of ongoing badges and incidents from which the systemic structures of discrimination have come to exist. (b) The State of California apologizes for perpetuating the harms African Americans faced by having imbued racial prejudice through segregation, public and private discrimination, and unequal disbursal of state and federal funding and declares that such actions shall not be repeated. The State of California acknowledges the work of the Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans, with a Special Consideration for African Americans Who are Descendants of Persons Enslaved in the United States. This task force, established by Assembly Bill 3121 (2020), detailed the harms faced by African Americans in California and provided numerous legislative recommendations, including this formal apology. The State of California affirms its role in protecting the descendants of enslaved people and all Black Californians as well as their civil, political, and socio-cultural rights. California acknowledges and affirms its responsibility to end ongoing harm. The State of California commits to restore and repair affected peoples with actions beyond this apology.

If the State Senate approves the bill, the apology will be mounted on a plaque in the Capitol and displayed at the state archives.

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