No, the Repairs Task Force Report Isn’t a ‘Watershed Moment.’ Action Will Be

Days before the report was released, inside the California Ballroom, a $300 an hour art deco space used for weddings, conferences and family reunions on Franklin Street, the listening session, one of several planned this summer, was sparsely attended, with about four dozen in person and that many more watching the live stream.

I was expecting a scene reminiscent of the movement to secure reparations for people of Japanese descent incarcerated during WWII, where for three days people tested in a packed auditorium at Golden Gate University in San Francisco, as my colleague Annelise Finney reported for her February piece that marked the 80th year of the executive order that forced people, many American citizens, to abandon their jobs, schools and homes.

But this listening session was muted in comparison because, like the task force, which could produce a model for countrywide reparations, an argument must first be presented because the totality of America’s racist history isn’t taught in schools.

The road to racial equity in America starts in California, which entered the union as a free state in 1850.

In 1849, delegates met in Monterey to draft the state’s constitution, declaring California a free state where “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, unless for punishment of crimes, shall ever be tolerated.” California’s first governor, the repugnant racist Peter Hardeman Burnett, sanctioned campaigns to exterminate Indigenous populations, and he wanted to block Black people from entering the state.

It didn’t work out that way, but Black people have still had a hard row to hoe in California.

In the early 20th century, Black people arrived on the Monterey Peninsula as fieldworkers, putting down roots in Pacific Grove. Brown’s grandmother was part of the Great Migration of Black folks fleeing Jim Crow-era lynchings and white mob violence in Arkansas and other southern states. Brown said her family — aunts, uncles and cousins ​​— lived on the same street.

A Black woman looks towards the camera while holding a card standing in front of a microphone
LuvVon Brown speaks during a reparations listening session at the California Ballroom in Oakland on May 28, 2022. Brown spoke about her family and their lives on the Monterey Peninsula, a place she no longer recognizes. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Fort Ord, an Army base overlooking Monterey Bay that closed in 1994, drew Black families from around the country with many, including Brown’s mother, settling in Seaside. Many areas of Monterey County, like Carmel and Del Rey Oaks, were off limits because of restrictive housing covenants that barred Black people from owning property in certain areas, Brown said, citing “African Americans of Monterey County,” a history of the county by Jan Batiste Adkins.

History is about all that’s left of the robust Black life that once thrived in the county.

“It’s like when you go back there now, it’s completely different,” said Brown, 34, who believes that providing land should be a repairs priority. “It’s almost like every trace of the Black community is almost gone.”

The median home price in Seaside, according to Zillow, an online real estate marketplace, is almost $800,000. Now a sales representative for a human resource management company, Brown graduated from Seaside High School in 2005. She then moved to Nashville, Tenn. Many in her family, including her mother, followed, unable to sustain the high cost of living on the California coast. In the course of her lifetime, Brown has seen Black wealth evaporated in Seaside.

“It just doesn’t feel like home because all of the families that grew up there are gone,” said Brown, who moved to the Bay Area during the pandemic.

The Bay Area, while racially diverse, remains deeply segregated, according to analyzes by researchers at UC Berkeley’s Othering and Belonging Institute. In an October 2021 report titled “The Most Segregated Cities and Neighborhoods in the San Francisco Bay Area,” researchers, using 2020 Census data, found “that the Bay Area is significantly more segregated than it was in 1970, 1980, or even 1990, ” including that eight of the nine counties “are more segregated as of 2020 than they were in 1970, and 7 of the 9 are more segregated in 2020 than they were in 1980.”

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