The St. Paul City Council is exploring reparations for Black residents whose ancestors were enslaved, as a form of racial healing after generations of institutionalized racism in Minnesota.
The council will take up a resolution Wednesday that would form a commission to consider reparations. The document apologizes for a series of historic scars, from slavery at Fort Snelling — including the enslavement of Dred Scott — to the destruction of St. Paul's Rondo neighborhood to make way for Interstate 94 in the 1950s.
"As a city, as a state and as a country, we can't talk about slavery, Jim Crow, Rondo, red-lining and racial covenants as being sins of the past," said Council Member Jane Prince, the resolution's lead sponsor on the council. "It is a debt owed by all of us."
Trahern Crews, co-chair of the Green Party of the United States who heads up its national reparations working group, is partnering closely with Prince.
"We are now the epicenter of the social justice movement because of George Floyd. It's time for bold reparatory justice policies," said Crews, who is co-chairing a community reparations steering committee.
The resolution, to be considered days before the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, appears to have support from all seven council members. If it passes, St. Paul will join a small group of cities across the country that have launched reparations commissions.
St. Paul's resolution calls for the formation of the "St. Paul Recovery Act Community Reparations Commission," which Crews said would interpret reparations broadly, considering everything from cash payments to individuals to establishing health clinics and community centers in Black neighborhoods and providing small business and mortgage assistance to Black residents.
Prince said part of reparations could be making sure existing resources are deployed more equitably.
The commission will examine reparations work now happening in the cities of Asheville, N.C., and Evanston, Ill., where the Evanston City Council is funding its reparations work with tax revenue collected from recreational cannabis sales.
Both Crews and Prince say that the concept of reparations, once viewed as radical, is becoming more mainstream.
Former presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, a Democrat from New Jersey, has introduced federal legislation around the further study of reparations. The Minnesota Council of Churches has launched a "truth and reparation" initiative to advance racial healing and explore reparations.
A commentary in the November 2020 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine calls for reparations to end health disparities.
"There has not been a single year since the founding of the United States when Black people in this country have not been sicker and died younger than White people," write the two physicians from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Boston University School of Public Health.
Prince said she only has to look to her own history to understand the importance of generational wealth. The daughter of a World War II veteran, Prince said the G.I. Bill, which funded homeownership and college tuition, helped her family achieve middle-class status.
"That same opportunity was not available to African Americans coming home from combat," Prince said.
St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter expressed support for the city's soul-searching.
"While no sum can repay the immeasurable debt owed to descendants of those whose stolen labor built our country, the facts of this national debt, and of slavery's lingering social and economic impacts, are clear," Carter said in a statement. "Every institution that has systemically enforced, sanctioned, or profited from the evil of slavery must participate fully in this work."
The city of St. Paul, which has a population of 308,000, is about 16% Black, according to U.S. Census data for 2019, the most recent year for which data are available.
Council Member Mitra Jalali said she strongly supports the measure to acknowledge injustices and address them.
"Reparations are a very clear way to say wealth was stolen from Black Americans through racism and oppression," Jalali said. "We have to restore the wealth that was taken."
And to critics who say reparations for Black Americans ignore other groups that have faced oppression, Jalali said, "I actually believe there is enough wealth in this country for everyone. … We can work on more than one thing at once. Everyone deserves to be cared for."
Shannon Prather • 651-925-5037