The Newark City Council on Wednesday approved a resolution that advances the cause of reparations for African Americans in New Jersey, urging state lawmakers to create a task force to study the issue.

The resolution calls on state legislators to create a New Jersey Reparations Task Force that would “examine the lingering negative effects of slavery on living African-Americans and on society in New Jersey” and “make recommendations for what remedies should be awarded.”

Jean-Pierre Brutus, senior counsel with the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, a group that has helped lead a “Reparations: Say the Word” campaign, called the vote “wonderful news” and said the movement would help address long-standing racial inequities that stem from a history of slavery and structural racism in the state.

Much of this history is not widely known. New Jersey was the last state in the North to abandon the practice of slavery, and initially rejected the 13th Amendment, which permanently abolished slavery at the end of the Civil War. All of this, said Brutus, is reflected in conditions in the state today.

“New Jersey has one of the largest racial wealth gaps in the country,” he said. The median white household wealth in New Jersey, according to a report issued by his organization in 2020, is $352,000 versus $6,100 for a Black household.

New Jersey has one of the largest racial wealth gaps in the country
Jean-Pierre Brutus

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka joined the Council’s hearing to voice support for the resolution, having long supported reparations.

In 2020, Baraka said in an interview with Vlad TV that any task force would have to consider various forms of reparations, “in terms of education, in terms of cash payments, in terms of tax credits. All of those things should be on the table.”

Previous efforts in the Garden State to advance the issue failed to gain traction. Nationwide, there has been a new push, fueled in part by the social reckoning sparked by the 2020 murder of George Floyd during an arrest by police in Minneapolis.

In California, a reparations task force has been meeting since last June, and earlier this month, members of the Boston City Council proposed the establishment of a city reparations commission. In November, voters in Detroit voted by a wide margin in support of a reparations task force.

Brutus said the Newark Council’s vote in support of the resolution would be shared with two national bodies, the U.S. Conference of Mayors and National League of Cities, in an effort to build further momentum.

Earlier, he said, the idea of reparations was widely considered “unimaginable.”

“Now, people are actually thinking about, ‘Let’s study this. Let’s think about what it would look like. Let’s have a conversation about this.’”