reparations, Atlanta

Atlanta Wants To Explore Reparations For Black Residents, But Not Direct Cash Payments

The effort in Atlanta is coinciding with efforts from Fulton County to determine recommendations for reparations and a program in Evanstown, Illinois to give Black residents access to better housing.

Under Georgia law its cities can not make cash payments to individuals in the name of reparations, so the City of Atlanta is getting creative about how it is approaching their implementation. According to Atlanta News First, on Nov. 6, the Atlanta city council included an item on its agenda list that created a task force to explore reparations. 

Michael Julian Bond, the son of famed Civil Rights leader Julian Bond, is a leader in the effort to examine how Atlanta can provide reparations to its citizens. Bond told the outlet, “The possibilities are limitless,” Bond explained, “Because we’re creatures of the state, we’re limited in our power and authority. But there have been wrongs that have been committed and are well documented.”

The nature of reparations was not immediately specified, but the “City of Atlanta Reparations Study Commission” intends to investigate the city’s historical involvement in discriminating against African American residents and offer suggestions for suitable reparations, as outlined in the agenda item.

The effort in Atlanta is coinciding with efforts from Fulton County to determine recommendations for reparations and a program in Evanstown, Illinois, to give Black residents access to better housing. The federal government has been very slow to give Black people reparations despite awarding, in one example, Japanese families who were placed in internment camps during WWII. In 2015, The Barack Obama administration awarded $12 million for assistance to Holocaust survivors. According to Axios, Fulton County plans to make its announcement regarding recommendations for reparations no later than October 2024. In Atlanta, citizens made calls for the city to establish a committee to study reparations during a public council committee meeting in October.

Merchuria Williams, who moved to the city in 1965 to attend Spelman College, said during her remarks, “People of African descent who are citizens in this city are due restitution for wrongs done and opportunities blocked.”

Dr. Cynthia Spence, a reparations expert and professor at Atlanta’s Spelman College, told Atlanta News First, “And so for hundreds of years, Black people have been looking for that proverbial 40 acres and a mule and certainly, we did not receive it. It’s a complicated process, but certainly I think that it is a necessary process for all of us to engage in.”

She went into the ways reparations can happen aside from cash payments.

“Those outcomes have included things like reducing property taxes, providing monetary payments to Black individuals – African Americans in communities – to help with housing, there have been discussions about educational access,” Spence said. “Universities have been involved in this reparations work.”

Spence also added, “This isn’t a new idea, it can happen, it’s been done before and it was actually a promise that was made that was not delivered upon. It’s very complex, but the complexity should not prevent us from actually moving forward because we can all agree that harm was done.”

Bond says that the committee can study the effects of discrimination and their recommendation could be any number of things that have disproportionately affected Black people in Atlanta, telling the outlet, “They may come back and say hey, maybe we’ll give folks some down payment assistance, maybe we’ll have some type of incentive program for them for small business or something of that nature.”

Bond added, “So this will be the job of this committee, to make those recommendations and bring them back to the City of Atlanta.”