Inspired By Reparations Movement in California, Nevada Is Exploring Its Own Approach

Inspired By Reparations Movement in California, Nevada Is Exploring Its Own Approach


Mother and daughter at Kianga Isoke Palacio Park, Las Vegas, City of Las Vegas Public Media

As California moves forward with its study of possible reparations for residents who are ancestors of slaves, Nevada is now considering it own approach to reparations.

Recently, during a Las Vegas-based webinar led by the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada (ACLU), local leaders discussed whether Black Nevadans should receive reparations.

The conversation was held by local civil rights groups and progressive organizations to educate the public in Nevada. Panelists included Lilith Baran, the policy manager at the ACLU of Nevada, Clark County Commissioner William McCurdy II, and Don Tamaki of the California Reparations Task Force.

Similar to California, Nevada never had slavery within its borders, but the legacy of slavery prevailed in the form of discriminatory policies against Black residents.

In 1861, Nevada’s territorial legislature passed a miscegenation law targeting Blacks as well as Chinese immigrants and Native Americans, The Atlantic reported. Miscegenation laws enforce racial segregation at the level of marriage and intimate relationships by criminalizing interracial marriage and sometimes also sex between members of different races. Later, the state legislature followed suit with Jim Crow laws that lasted for decades.

And, redlining was such a problem in Las Vegas that the city was sometimes called “the Mississippi of the West” at the time. Redlining pushed black residents west across the railroad lines and away from what would become the prosperous Strip area. 

Redlining is a discriminatory practice in which restricted Blacks to live in certain areas, most often areas that lacked services and were low-income.

In the 1940s and 1950s, Black musicians like Nat King Cole and Ella Fitzgerald couldn’t sleep or eat in the casinos where they performed. 

Due to this history of discrimination, Nevada is now thinking about following California into the reparations movement.

“This country itself has received reparation payments from, of all countries, Haiti,” said retired Air Force veteran and local community organizer Rodney Smith during the Aug. 18 meeting, The Nevada Independent reported. “So, reparations is not a new concept. Nor is it new in America. The difference is whether or not the country will pay reparations for those people and their descendants who were enslaved and literally built this country.”

Local leaders in Nevada said they plan to start thinking about immediate forms of compensation that would not come from federal money.

“Reparations shouldn’t be something that triggers us in a negative way, but it should be a call to action for all of us who believe in the fairness of this country,” said Smith, the opening moderator for the Nevada webinar.

In all, there were 53 webinar participants.

Smith noted during the meeting that for at least 250 years, Black people provided labor, contributed science, and knowledge without compensation. Then followed generations of wage theft.

“There is a debt hole, and someone should pay,” Smith said. “The first part of that payment is acknowledging that it happened.”

“​​While California entered the Union in 1850, as a non-slave state, it was plenty complicit with enslavers entering California, and taking their human property with them,” Tamaki of the California Reparations Task Force said.

Tamaki added, “California’s 1849 anti-slavery state Constitution meant little because it was not a crime to keep someone enslaved. There were no laws to free enslaved people or to punish enslavers. Or laws to protect African Americans from being kidnapped and enslaved, or re-enslaved.”

The task force began in June 2021, and on June 1 of this year, its members released a nearly 500-page, in-depth report that chronicles 250 years of enslavement and racial terror, 90 years of Jim Crow segregation laws, and decades more of continuing discrimination that Tamaki said was “resulting in today’s outcomes, which are at once shocking, but not surprising.”

While the California task force will hold hearings about possible reparations starting in September and running until June 2023, Nevada does not yet have any reparations legislation drafted.

There have been past efforts.

“While there has not been action specifically on reparations in Nevada, there has been substantial progress toward racial justice and advancing equity,” Assemblyman Howard Watts III (D-Las Vegas) said in an interview with The Nevada Independent.

In 2021, Watts sponsored AJR10, a measure to amend the Nevada Constitution and would have removed language that allows for slavery or involuntary servitude. It passed unanimously, but it has to pass again in next year’s legislative session, and then it would go on the ballot for a vote to take effect. 

Other measures include AB261, sponsored by Assemblywoman Natha Anderson (D-Reno), which mandates diverse perspectives become a core part of the K-12 curriculum, and AB267, sponsored by Assemblyman Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas) and others, that provides compensation to wrongfully convicted persons. 

But Watts said the measures do not equal reparations.

“We’ve been working on reform,” he said. “… I’m not saying that reparations are off the table.”

Mother and daughter on climbing wall at Kianga Isoke Palacio Park, Las Vegas, City of Las Vegas Public Media, https://clv.hosted-by-files.com/clvpublicmedia/Parks/Kianga%20Isoke%20Palacio%20Park/