On March 29, California’s first-in-the-nation task force on reparations voted to structure its reparations criteria based on lineage traced to slavery.
That means any compensation the task force decides on will be limited to the descendants of free and enslaved Black people who were in the U.S. in the 19th century.
As the task force continues to move ahead, having recently released its first interim report, more Black San Diegans are starting to trace their lineage in anticipation of reparations being issued in California, according to San Diego-based genealogist Yvette Porter-Moore.
“I have received calls from individuals who would like to get their DNA tested and to trace back to the plantation in which their families lived,” Porter-Moore told ABC affiliate 10 News.
The California task force, established by Gov. Gavin Newsom, issued a historic, 500-page report detailing harms suffered by the descendants of enslaved people. In 2023, the task force plans to release a comprehensive reparations plan.
Porter-Moore noted that a network of genealogists and historians is forming in the city to help Black people trace their family ancestries.
“There will be a coalition forming. There are talks happening already in Northern California,” said Porter-Moore.
While DNA tests can help create the branches of a family tree, bank records, birth and death records, newspaper articles, and other documents can also help establish lineage.
“Wills and trusts of slave owners, possibly runaway slave ads, or maybe some court records, as we were considered property,” said Porter-Moore. “It is my hope there is justice for our enslaved ancestors, and we begin to recover what was lost.”
Tracing slave lineage goes beyond reparations, some experts say.
“I thought that genetic ancestry testing (used by African-Americans) was only about the identity piece. But I found that it was also about bigger politics … the sort of bigger reckoning with American history,” said Alondra Nelson in a 2016 PBS interview.
Nelson is the author of the book “The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation after the Genome” and the Harold F. Linder Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study.
“And what genetic testing and genealogy, more generally — whether or not it’s the traditional form or the genetic form — allows is a telescoping back in history in a way to get around kind of historical amnesia…So, you’re not just saying, oh, you know, your ancestors might have been enslaved and they might have been owned by my ancestors. You’re actually saying, my great grandmother whose name was this lived in this place and she was a former enslaved person.”
About 10 percent of African Americans in California may be ready to apply for reparations based on the research that has already done, Porter-Moore said.
Photo: People line up to speak during a reparations task force meeting at Third Baptist Church in San Francisco, April 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Janie Har)