North Carolina town votes to pay reparations to Black residents

Asheville, a small city in western North Carolina, has voted to pay reparations to Black residents, as the US continues to grapple with stark racial inequality.

The Asheville city council voted 7-0 in favor of issuing what the city considered reparations, issuing a formal apology “for its participation in and sanctioning of the enslavement of Black people”.

“Hundreds of years of Black blood spilled that basically fills the cup we drink from today,” said city councilman Keith Young, one of two African American members of the body and the measure’s chief proponent.

As part of the resolution, city leaders in Asheville have also called on North Carolina and the federal government to provide funding for reparations. The “resulting budgetary and programmatic priorities” will include “strategies to grow equity and generational wealth, closing the gaps in healthcare, education, employment and pay, neighborhood safety, and fairness within criminal justice”.

“It is simply not enough to remove statutes,” said Young of the city council. “Black people in this country are dealing with issues that are systemic in nature”.

Some supporters of federal legislation to atone for US slavery have called out the city’s measure, however, questioning it being labeled reparations considering they are typically made via direct cash payments to individuals. Instead, retribution for the Asheville’s Black population will come in the form of direct funds to programs designed to increase minority home ownership, business ownership, and improving education and neighborhoods instead.

“Piecemeal reparations taken singly or collectively at those levels of government cannot meet the debt for American racial injustice,” William Darity Jr, a professor of public policy at Duke University in Durham, told the New York Times.

The measure comes as other states also look to reconcile with their legacies in US slavery and the decades of of institutional discrimination that followed.

In Rhode Island on Wednesday, Mayor Jorge Elzorza of Providence signed an executive order creating a truth-telling, reconciliation and municipal reparations process that will first explore what providing reparations for the city’s Black residents would look like.

“We’re putting a marker on the ground and committing to elevating this conversation and using the levers at our disposal to correct the wrongs of the past,” Elzorza said, noting his African American Ambassador Group, a group of about 100 African American community leaders, will advise. “What we’re doing here together is truly something historic. But most importantly, it comes directly from the voice of our Black community.”