Growing Number of California Groups Express Support for Black Reparations

Antonio Ray Harvey| California BlackMedia

In California, an increasing number of Japanese, Jewish and other non-Black groups are expressing their support for reparations to Black American residents of the state who are descendants of enslaved people.

Around 100 grassroot organizations, motivated in part by the efforts of the Japanese American Bar Association and John M. Langston Bar Association of Los Angeles, have endorsed the work of the task force, and are calling on California to compensate Black residents for historical wrongdoings.

Donald Tamaki, an attorney, and the only non-Black member of the nine-member state reparations task force panel, stated that the groups supporting the task force are mostly Asian, Latino and Jewish.

“They didn’t need whole lot of persuasion,” Tamaki said. “Why? Because they know the healing power of reparations. I think that, in itself, is a news story: that there’s a multi-racial group of both big and small organizations representing different constituencies.”

The United States government has previously approved reparations for other ethnic groups to address historical injustices. For instance, Native Americans have been given billions of dollars in compensation for land that was unlawfully taken from them. Japanese Americans received billions in compensation and some of their property was returned for being placed in internment camps during World War II.

Many of the injustices experienced by Japanese Americans occurred after President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s issued Executive Order 9066 on Feb. 19, 1942, responding to Japan’s aerial bombing of U.S. Military installations at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on Dec.7, 1941.

In the months following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, approximately 122,000 men, women, and children of Japanese descent were forcibly relocated to “assembly centers.” Nearly 70,000 of these evacuees were American citizens. They were then evacuated to and confined in 75 isolated, fenced, and guarded “relocation centers,” known as “incarceration camps.”

According to the National Park Service (NPS), 92,785 Californians of Japanese descent were put in temporary detention camps called “Assembly Centers.” The cities of Sacramento, Los Angeles, Oakland, and San Francisco, metropolitans with the largest Japanese contingents, were incarcerated without legal recourse.

Japanese Americans were imprisoned based on ancestry alone. There was no evidence that they had committed any crimes against the U.S. or presented any danger, NPS explained in its “A History of Japanese Americans in California: Incarceration of Japanese Americans During World War II.”

Three Japanese Americans who were involved in and knowledgeable about the Japanese American Redress Movement (JARM) testified at the California reparations task force’s public meeting held in Los Angeles on Sept. 24, 2022. They educated attendees about efforts Japanese Americans made to obtain restitution for their forced removal and confinement during World War II.

Mitchell Maki (President and CEO of the Go for Broke National Education Center, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the legacy and lessons of the Nisei World War II veterans) and Ron Wakabayashi (former Executive Director, Japanese American Citizens League) provided historical context on how Japanese Americans achieved a rare accomplishment in U.S. history by passing the Civil Liberties Act of 1988.

They received an official apology letter from the President of the United States and 82,000 surviving Japanese Americans were compensated with $20,000 payments, which totaled to $1.6 billion. Executive Order 9066 was officially rescinded by U.S. President Gerald Ford on Feb. 16, 1976.

Miya Iwataki – a special assistant to former California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC) member and U.S. Congressmember Mervyn Dymally who represented the state’s 31st District in Congress during the 1980s – was a member of the National Coalition for Redress/Reparations for Japanese Americans.

Iwataki says she drew inspiration from the activism of Black leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Black Panther Party member Fred Hampton, the Tuskegee Airmen, the Brown Berets, among others. She explained that it was Black leaders such as Dymally and former Oakland mayor and U.S. Congress member Ron Dellums who supported the passage of the Civil Liberties Act.

Maki, Iwataki, Wakabayashi and other Nisei (second-generations Japanese Americans) and Sansei (third generation) are urging the state to compensate Black descendants of chattel slavery and provide a formal apology for harms suffered in California.

“First, I want to acknowledge the difference in our fight for reparations for the injustice of the (incarceration) camps and the 400 years history of enslaved people,” Iwataki testified. “We’re not here to make recommendations or to prescribe lessons learned. I am here to share the experiences of NCRR and all volunteer grassroot organizations that fought for reparations and to express our continued solidarity for Black reparations.”

In September 2022, the San Francisco Black and Jewish Unity Coalition held reparations teach-ins at Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco. Secretary of State Shirley Weber, who authored the legislation, Assembly Bill 3121, that created the task force when she was an Assemblymember, was one of the speakers.

Congregation B’nai Israel hosted a 90-minute reparations information session in Sacramento on June 11. Presented by Sacramento Jewish opera singer Lynn Berkeley-Baskin, over 20 people – Jewish and Japanese — attended the event to hear Chris Lodgson from the Coalition for a Just and Equitable California share his experiences as one of the grassroots leaders driving California’s movement for reparations.

Germany has openly acknowledged past aggressions committed during the Holocaust. According to a June 202 report by Steven J. Ross in the Jewish publication the Forward, the German government has paid out $92 billion to Holocaust survivors over seven decades. In the United States, the country has “failed to reckon with the consequences of centuries of slavery,” Ross writes.

“As laws advancing revisionist history sweep our nation’s state legislatures, Americans who favor a national reckoning with our own complicated past would do well to take a lesson from Germany,” writes Steven J. Ross, a history professor at the University of Southern California (USC).

“If we want to truly heal as a nation, we must first acknowledge both the long history of slavery and the pain its legacy still causes – and take tangible steps to right our collective wrongs,” Ross stated.

The task force will hold its final meeting and submit its final report to the California legislature on June 29.

The meeting will start at 9:00 a.m., in the First Floor Auditorium of the March Fong Eu Secretary of State Building, located at 1500 11th Street, downtown Sacramento.

“If there are helpful takeaways from our experience, I hope that they will contribute,” Wakabayashi said of Japanese Americans’ fight for reparations. “It would help repay a great debt. The Black civil rights movement generated the Japanese American Redress Campaign and led the struggle for human rights in this country.”

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