SACRAMENTO – California's Reparations Task Force is working against a deadline. The first-in-the-nation panel will be required to submit a final report to the legislature before July 1.
Black Californians could qualify if they can prove they are descendants of free or enslaved black people during the 19th century, but how does one do that?
Kathy Lynne Marshall said she successfully navigated the complex journey.
"It's not impossible," she said. "For African Americans — where it gets dicey — the 1870 census was the first time that we're shown by name in a census."
Marshall began tracing her family roots in 1976 but said she did not get anywhere until 2016. She has written eight books about her family in the last seven years.
The question of who your ancestors are will be pivotal if the state reparations task force gets its way.
After members submit their final recommendations, lawmakers will need to craft legislation which will then be followed by the governor's approval. But how – or who – will determine who is qualified is also another complex issue.
"There is no definitive way of how that can be proven," said Asm. Reggie Jones-Sawyer, a task force member.
While the task force might have thought it's an easy thing to do, it's not, he said.
While the details have yet to iron out, Marshall said now is the time for Black Californians to trace their family history.
Records like birth and marriage certificates are a start. Anything before the 1870 U.S. Census, the Freedmen's Bureau chronicles life following the end of slavery. For example, work contracts may show an employer's name who may have also been a former slave owner.
Why would this detail possibly matter? Sometimes, it shows who belonged to that owner, Marshall said.
Marshall hopes others will soon uncover who they are.
"Don't wait for what reparations may or may not be," she said. "Write your stories now."
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