Boston’s Reparations Task Force commences work
Mayor Michelle Wu announced the members of the 10-person task force on Tuesday.
Mayor Michelle Wu cemented the creation of the city’s Reparations Task Force on Tuesday with a promise to deliver a deep study of Boston’s slavery history and present avenues for repairing its lingering impacts as she announced the 10 members of the newly-formed body.
Born out of legislation passed by the City Council in December, the task force is charged with offering recommendations for the city based off a yet-to-be commissioned report of the legacy of slavery in Boston — once a port city in the transatlantic slave trade — and its continuing repercussions in fueling racial disparities.
Among the group’s responsibilities will be “to assess what actions we as a city have taken and consider what actions we can take moving forward to acknowledge truth, foster reconciliation, repair harm, and restore and strengthen our communities,” Wu said Tuesday.
Citing the move as a part of a conversation spanning generations, Wu said members were selected to represent multiple generations of Bostonians.
They include Denilson Fanfan, 11th grade student at the Jeremiah E. Burke High School; L’Merchie Frazier, public historian, visual activist, and executive director of creative and strategic partnerships for SPOKE Arts; George “Chip” Greenidge Jr., founder and director of Greatest MINDS; Kerri Greenidge, assistant professor of Studies in Race, Colonialism, and Diaspora at Tufts University; David Harris, past managing director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice; Dorothea Jones, civic organizer and member of the Roxbury Strategic Master Plan Oversight Committee; Carrie Mays, UMass Boston student and youth leader with Teen Empowerment; Na’tisha Mills, program manager for Embrace Boston; and Damani Williams, 11th grader at the Jeremiah E. Burke High School.
Joseph D. Feaster Jr., an attorney, former president of the Boston branch of the NAACP, and current member of the city’s Black Men & Boys Commission, will serve as chair of the task force.
Proponents of the initiative, including City Councilors Julia Mejia and Tania Fernandes Anderson, the lead sponsors of the initial ordinance, say it is part of needed and long overdue atonement for Black Bostonians, who continue to feel lasting inequities rooted in the era of slavery.
Wu, speaking at the historic African Meeting House in Beacon Hill, acknowledged slave owning was etched into Boston’s earliest chapter, dating to at least 1631.
And even after Massachusetts became the first state to abolish slavery in the late 18th century, Bostonians continued to reap financial benefits from the system.
Though the city boasts a proud 19th century history as a bastion of abolitionism, the task force ordinance highlights how following the emancipation of slaves in 1865, the city “established a political economy which limited opportunity, access, economic and political inclusion” for Black residents.
Racial inequities, Wu said Tuesday, remain present today, evidenced by gaps in wealth, homeownership, education, and health care between communities of color and their white counterparts.
“The forming of this reparations task force is an important step in the ongoing process of bringing justice to the Black community of Boston,” Fernandes Anderson said in a statement. “This is so both for the historical legacies of anti-Black racism going back to the enslavement of kidnapped Africans, to the current manifestations of structural and systemic white supremacy that are embedded and entrenched within the political and economic status quo.”
The announcement came a day after Boston got an even fuller picture of its relationship to slavery in America.
A new report released Monday spearheaded by a Harvard doctoral student outlines how widespread slavery was in colonial Boston, and includes evidence showing at least 58 Africans and Indigenous people were enslaved by white parishioners of the First Church in Roxbury between 1631 and 1775.
While Boston joins other communities around the nation now considering action on reparations, approaches have varied from city to city.
The task force ordinance states the group will make recommendations, in part, around how Boston can eliminate policies that harm Black residents.
The body will also recommend how the city can issue a formal apology to the “people of Boston for the perpetration of gross human rights violations and crimes against humanity on African slaves and their descendants.”
The process is expected to take 18 months.
“We are looking forward to determining recommendations for how we reckon with Boston’s past while charting a path forward for Black people whose ancestors labored without compensation and who were promised the 40 acres and a mule they never received,” Feaster, the chairman, said in a statement.
Material from previous Boston.com stories and the Associated Press was used in this report.
Stay up to date on all the latest news from Boston.com