Gov. Kathy Hochul on Tuesday signed a bill into law that will create a community commission to look into potential slavery reparation.

The panel will be tasked with studying the state's history of slavery and how to repair its lasting impacts on descendants of enslaved New Yorkers. Slavery remained legal in New York until 1827.

The commission will be comprised of nine members with three members chosen by each the governor, state Assembly speaker and majority leader of the state Senate. The members would have to submit a report of their findings and recommendations to the Legislature no later than one year after the date of the commission’s first meeting.

“Today, we are continuing our efforts to right the wrongs of the past by acknowledging the painful legacy of slavery in New York,” Hochul said. “We have a moral obligation to reckon with all parts of our shared history as New Yorkers, and this commission marks a critical step forward in these efforts.”

The expert panel will assess slavery’s lingering socioeconomic impacts on Black and brown people.

“Housing discrimination, segregation, economic oppression – all were designed to keep Black and brown Americans from reaching that first wrung on that ladder of success, the ladder of opportunity and many were kicked down when they finally got there," Hochul said.

The commission will analyze how descendents of slaves still face disparities in healthcare, education and employment compared to white New Yorkers. 

“We lift all people up to get them jobs, paying taxes, supporting governments, so I think there’s a great opportunity here to go beyond the conversation. But first you have to do the research,” Hochul said.

California serves as a model by releasing findings several months ago, including a formal apology.

But the Golden State’s plan also recommends financial payments that could reach $500 billion, which is more than double New York’s entire state budget. 

Hochul on Tuesday, refused to discuss a price tag. 

“You’re jumping way ahead. This is not about any particular solution or remedy at all. I want to be very clear: I think that’s what you heard today. This is not, this allows a group of individuals to study the effects of slavery generations later. On access to housing and redlining and discrimination in education, health care outcomes,” she said.

The Assembly’s first Black leader, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, argues it’s about more than the money.

“This is not just about who we gonna write check to and what the amount is,” he said. “It begins the conversion of one, recognizing the issues that affected Black people and the descendents of slaves in this state.” 

New York was a key underground railroad stop for those escaping slavery in the south. Freedom fighter Frederick Douglass made his home in Rochester for years.

But Central Park was built, in part, because the city used eminent domain, allowing the bulldozing of Seneca Village — a settlement of predominantly free, Black landowners. 

State Sen. James Sanders, the law’s sponsor, spoke in their memory. 

“They lived a middle class life. They had more Black home ownership. Imagine if we would’ve let that happen,” he said. “They were also an integrated community. They had an integrated church. They had a little bit of everybody in 1853."


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