GBH News is out with a new podcast that asks a big question: What Is Owed? On this week’s episode of Basic Black, host Phillip Martin talked about the podcast, which dives into what reparations might look like in Boston, with GBH News Politics Reporter and Host Saraya Wintersmith, GBH News Senior Podcast Producer Jerome Campbell, historian Dr. Kellie Carter Jackson of Wellesley College, and Boston Task Force on Reparations member George “Chip” Greenidge.

The podcast dives into Boston’s history of slavery and discrimination and examines what could come of the city’s Task Force on Reparations.

“The ‘why?’ is looking at the work that the City Council put forth in 2022, calling for the task force. It came out of this question of, if reparations is going to happen in Boston, what would it look like?” said Campbell.

The push for reparations is picking up steam across the country, with Illinois, California, and New York launching task forces to study reparations. But it is unpopular among white Americans: a 2022 Pew Research Center study found that 18% of white Americans support reparations for descendants of enslaved people in the U.S., compared to 77% of Black Americans.

Carter Jackson, Associate Professor and Chair of Africana Studies at Wellesley College, attributes that to a lack of education. “Most Americans are grossly uninformed,” she said. “Most Americans are not aware of the history of slavery, the deep, violent history of slavery. They’re not aware of the deep, violent history of segregation, of redlining, of how Black people have been stripped from their wealth, stripped from opportunities to build wealth, blocked from entering schools for decades or centuries on end,” she said.

But reparations aren’t only for harms done in the past. “We have to talk about not just the past, but the present. Ongoing structural racism, what does that look like? And how are Black people marginalized or left out?” said Carter Jackson on Basic Black. 

Massachusetts was the first colony to legalize slavery, and then one of the first to abolish it. Slavery was common in Boston during the Colonial period. The Royall family enslaved at least sixty people on their plantation in nearby Medford. In the course of reporting What Is Owed?, Wintersmith learned about enslaved people who sued for their freedom–or, once freed, for reparations.

“Black people, even as early as colonial Massachusetts, were utilizing the court system to sue for freedom. Even in Belinda [Sutton]’s case, as she was suing for a pension from her enslaver’s estate, you can read her petition and see that she’s also condemning the entire system,” said Wintersmith.

As someone whose family has lived in the Boston area for four generations, Greenidge hopes that Boston’s work on reparations will bring its local history to the forefront. “Let’s talk about my great-great aunt, who had a house near Berklee where the Christian Science Monitor was, and how that was knocked down in the guise of urban renewal, was actually taken from her at very little cost. Let’s talk about those local stories. Let’s talk about Charles Stuart and the way that he killed his wife and blamed it on a Black man.” Greenidge was a teenager in Mission Hill during the hunt for Stuart’s killer, and he later received a scholarship from the Carol DiMaiti Stuart Foundation, named after Charles Stuart’s wife and victim.

That was a form of reparations, noted Phillip Martin, who hosted this week’s episode.

The idea of reparations might sound foreign, but victims have received reparations in the past. Carter Jackson brought up Japanese Americans and Holocaust survivors as examples. “We have models that we can build upon. We have the way. I think the problem is we don’t always have the will,” she said.

Listen to What Is Owed? wherever you get your podcasts or on