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Boston - like many cities around the US - has begun to wrestle with the notion of paying reparations to Black people to make up for 400 years of enslavement and economic exclusion. But in Boston, this debate is layered in history. It was here that slavery was first legalized in the American colonies; it was here that founders of American independence are buried alongside the Black people they enslaved; and it was here that legislation was introduced in the 1980s that became the model of a national bill calling for reparations - a bill that is still on agenda in the U.S Congress.

In What Is Owed?, a new 7-part podcast, GBH News political reporter Saraya Wintersmith seeks to understand what reparations might look like in one of the oldest cities in America, uncovering the lessons for a successful reparations framework through the stories of its architects, past and present.

Listen to the episodes here on gbhnews.org, or subscribe on your favorite podcast platform. Have a comment or question about reparations and What Is Owed? Send a text message or leave a voicemail at (617) 958-6061, or fill out the form below.

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  • Boston, a city entrenched in the history of the American Revolution, creates a task force to explore the city’s history of slavery and economic discrimination and to consider reparations for Black citizens.
  • We look back at the history of efforts in Boston to explore reparations, particularly through the lens of Sen. Bill Owens, the first Black member of the Massachusetts Senate. At the end of the 1980s, Owens, inspired by activism he had seen in Detroit, introduced a bill to pay reparations to Black descendants of enslaved people. That bill is credited as being a model for national legislation introduced by Rep. John Conyers in every session of the U.S. Congress since 1989 to create a national commission on reparations.
  • One of the biggest challenges for a local reparations effort is determining who should get repaid. Historically, the idea of reparations has been tied to the forsaken promise of 400,000 acres the U.S. government was going to give to formerly enslaved people due to the atrocities of slavery. However, the harms endured by Black people have not been confined to that period. We start the episode at Cape Coast Castle, a slave trading outpost on the coast of Ghana where enslaved people were first taken from the African continent and sold into the institution of slavery. We use this first point of harm to begin a discussion with a series of Black political thinkers about how the harms against Black people can begin to be addressed through reparations.

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