St. Paul joins handful of cities moving towards reparations for descendants of slaves

A resolution apologizes for the area's role in slavery and systemic racism and greenlights a commission to study reparations for descendants of slaves in St. Paul
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Screenshot of the Jan. 13 St. Paul City Council meeting

Screenshot of the Jan. 13 St. Paul City Council meeting

St. Paul has joined a handful of cities taking steps towards issuing reparations for descendants of slaves. 

The City Council passed a resolution earlier this month to form a commission within the next six months to study how the process of issuing reparations might work.

The resolution also outlined and apologized for the City Council's "participation in and sanctioning of institutional racism," citing the illegal holding of slaves at Fort Snelling and the construction of I-94 through the predominantly black Rondo neighborhood, as well as redlining, racial covenants, inequitable access to housing and environmental injustice.

The resolution was sponsored by Council Member Jane Prince, with steering committee co-chairs Georgia Fort, an independent journalist, and former mayoral candidate Trahern Crews, who co-chairs the national Green Party and leads its reparations group. 

"Considering what happened at the Capitol last week, I think the city council is taking a bold leadership step with voting on this resolution today," Crews said. 

The document was signed by all seven members, which Prince called "momentous." 

"Most resolutions do not come through our council with seven authors. That just shows the background work that’s been put into this, the momentum that’s behind it," said Council President Amy Brendmoen."I think this can't wait."  

The St. Paul Recovery Act Community Reparations Commission will issue a report "which will focus on but not be limited to strategies to grow equity and generational wealth, closing the gaps in home ownership, health care, education, employment and pay, and fairness within criminal justice among the American descendants of chattel slavery," the resolution reads. 

"The reality of it is, we cannot show up at the table anywhere and talk about equity without economic justice," Fort said, adding that Minnesota consistently ranks highest in the country for racial disparities. 

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The resolution, which also urges the state and federal governments to initiate policymaking for reparations, makes St. Paul one of a handful of cities that have launched reparations commissions, including Asheville, N.C., and Evanston, Ill, which funds its reparations through tax revenue from recreational cannabis sales. 

In November, the Minnesota Council of Churches launched a 10-year "Truth and Reparations" initiative to explore reparations and promote racial healing. 

Earlier this month, U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee introduced a bill that would establish a commission to study reparations on the national level. 

"I know this is a long road ahead, but it’s the right thing to do. And when it’s the right thing to do, it’s the easy thing to do,” Council Member Dai Thao said. 

“There’s no amount of money that would ever replace the tragedy, the trauma, over the hundreds of years that the African American community has experienced … This work is so important and we have to continue to recognize that, to tell this story, and fight and try to make things right. 

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