Mayor Wu Unveils Boston's Reparations Task Force

In Boston, activists have been calling for years for the city to atone for its role in slavery. The idea of reparations was first proposed in the 1980s by Bill Owens, the first Black state senator in Massachusetts

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The city of Boston has unveiled its reparations task force, a group of individuals tasked with studying and reporting back on the role Boston had in the slave trade, its continuing impact on the community, and to assess what can be done to acknowledge the past and foster reconciliation for the future.

“We’re grateful to all those who refused to give up the fight for justice, who have understood and continued to push that there is no statute of limitations of addressing wrongs that we have the ability to make right," Mayor Michelle Wu said Tuesday at the announcement at the Museum of African American History.

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The mayor announced the 10 members of the task force, which will be headed by attorney Joseph Feaster Jr., president of the Boston branch of the NAACP, and a current member of city’s Black Men & Boys Commission.

The other members announced are:

  • L’Merchie Frazier, director of education at the Museum of African American History, artist and public historian
  • George “Chip” Greenidge Jr., described by the mayor as "a pillar" of the Boston Black community, executive director of Greatest MINDS, a nonprofit that focuses on mentoring young people
  • Dr. Kerri Greenidge, author and historian in residence at the Museum of African American history and assistant professor of studies in race, colonialism, and diaspora at Tufts
  • Dr. David Harris, original managing director for Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice
  • Dorothea Jones, a longtime community organizer and member of the Roxbury Strategic Plan Oversight Committee
  • Carrie Mays, youth organizer, BPS graduate and current UMASS Boston student, and longtime leader at Teen Empowerment
  • Na'tisha Mills, program manager for Embrace Boston
  • Damani Williams, a student-athlete and 11th grader at Jeremiah E. Burke High School
  • Denilson Fanfan, a student-athlete and 11th grader at Jeremiah E. Burke High School

Back in December, the Boston City Council voted to form a task force to study how it can provide reparations for and other forms of atonement to Black Bostonians for the city’s role in slavery and its legacy of inequality.

The task force will be housed within the City of Boston’s Equity & Inclusion Cabinet and will soon issue a request for proposal (RFP) for a research partner to assist with its mission.

“The forming of this reparations task force is an important step in the ongoing process of bringing justice to the Black community of Boston,” said Councilor Tania Fernandes Anderson in a statement. “This is so both for the historical legacies of anti-Black racism going back to the enslavement of kidnapped Africans, to the current manifestations of structural and systemic white supremacy that are embedded and entrenched within the political and economic status quo.”

"The task force will give us the chance to fully engage and challenge policies that have harmed and marginalized Black people in Boston for generations. I am eager to collaborate with the task force with the goal of repairing and restoring injustice to move our city forward," said Lori Nelson, the city's senior advisor on racial justice.

Boston will be closely watched given its troubled racial history, including its role in supporting and financing slavery even after Massachusetts abolished the practice in 1783. Supporters of reparations cited its history of segregated housing as well as a political economy after Emancipation that reduced opportunities for Black Bostonians. The result of that, they said, is a wide wealth gap between white and Black families that remains today.

At Tuesday's event, Boston's Chief of Economic Opportunity and Inclusion Segun Idowu pointed out that what the task force finds and what Boston does has the potential to reverberate through the country.

“Today we are honoring the legacy of a heroic people who were beaten up, but not beaten down. Of people who were raped but still have their virtue, a group of people who were stripped of their freedom but clothed with dignity who were wiped out but would not be destroyed. And so no pressure but this task force has a serious and important role and task ahead of itself," he said.

Lawmakers across the country have pushed their states and cities to study reparations. Evanston, Illinois became the first U.S. city last year to make reparations available for Black residents, and public officials in New York will try anew to create a reparations commission in the state. California has also formed a commission to study the issue.

In Providence, Rhode Island, the mayor last year proposed spending $10 million of federal coronavirus funding on reparation efforts. The money would be spent on financial literacy and homeownership, workforce training, small business development and other programs recently recommended by the city’s reparations commission.

In Boston, activists have been calling for years for the city to atone for its role in slavery. The idea of reparations was first proposed in the 1980s by Bill Owens, the first Black state senator in Massachusetts. He died in 2022.

The task force in Boston will examine reparation models and study the disparities that have existed in the city as it relates to the African-American community. It will also collect data on “historic harms” to Black Bostonians and hold hearings where it will gather testimony from the community on problems they have faced, according to the ordinance approved in December.

The panel will make recommendations for reparations as well as ways to eliminate policies and laws that continue to cause harm to Black Bostonians. It will also recommend how the city will issue a formal apology to the “people of Boston for the perpetration of gross human rights violations and crimes against humanity on African slaves and their descendants.”

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