Boston is taking a major step towards reparations for Black residents: The city has chosen the group of academics and experts who will be leading a research effort into Boston's role in the transatlantic slave trade and subsequent discrimination.
The task force will be made up of two different groups, said Ron Mitchell, editor and publisher of the Bay State Banner, whose publication broke the news on the research efforts.
“They'll be looking at the various different discriminatory actions in relation to housing, in relation to job placement, in relation to economic development, just a whole host of things dating back through from the beginning of slavery,” Mitchell told GBH’s Morning Edition co-host Jeremy Siegel. “They'll just be looking at really what happened over those time periods that made it harder for African Americans and descendants of Africa to thrive in this country.”
A team from Northeastern University led by Prof. Margaret Burnham, a former judge who now heads the university’s Civil Rights and Restoration Justice Project, will be studying impacts of slavery and discrimination from 1940 to the present. The team will include Northeastern Professor Ted Landsmark, who studies public policy and urban affairs, and Professor Richard O’Bryant, director of the John D. O’Bryant African American Institute.
Another team, at Tufts University, will study the era from 1620 to 1940. Professor Kerri Greenidge, the Mellon associate professor in the study of race and colonialism, will lead the Tufts team.
“It's really important for the task force to be based in research. As the director of the Reparations Task Force or the head of the Reparations Task Force Joe Feaster said, you have to really do your research so that the results of your research can drive the actions that you take moving forward,” Mitchell said.
The task force will receive researchers’ work and is eventually tasked with recommending what the city should do to try and face the effects of slavery, segregation, and discrimination.
"I think there are a lot of options that the Task Force on Reparations should consider to counter the negative effects of centuries of discrimination against families who are descended from enslaved Americans,” Mitchell said. “In the area of education, there could be scholarships and other educational support programs. In the area of housing discrimination based on decades of redlining and home loan disparities, which have had devastatingly negative effects on generational wealth for many Black families, there could be home purchase grants, as well as real affordable housing and home ownership assistance. These are just a few of the solutions that should be on the table."
Mitchell said he hopes the task force can act as a template for other American cities and towns having conversations about reparations.
“Boston has always been in many ways viewed as a racist city. But as somebody who grew up here, I also know the other half of that coin where there have always been the foundations for civil rights leaders have come out of Boston dating back for hundreds of years,” he said. “Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King, some of the most famous ones. But there are also thousands of other civil rights activists that came from the New England area.”
Studying reparations, he said, is an important step in correcting prior and current injustices.
“Healing starts with understanding and identifying what happened to a group of people when folks are discriminated against,” he said. “As Boston and New England move forward to help to uplift the folks who were discriminated against, I think other cities will have a great process that they can follow.”