Massachusetts Town Will Seed $220K to Begin Reparations for Black Residents

A Massachusetts town council approved a fund to pay reparations to Black residents to atone for slavery, discrimination and past wrongs, which several town officials suggested an initial seed investment of more than $200,000 from surplus budget funds.

The Amherst Town Council voted 12-1 in favor of establishing the fund on Monday, the Daily Hampshire Gazette reported. A two-thirds vote of the council is required to authorize any spending from it.

Amherst Town Manager Paul Bockelman and other town officials were the ones to suggest the allocation of surplus funds as an initial seed investment into the reparations fund.

Michele Miller, cofounder of Reparations for Amherst, a local advocacy group that pushed for the fund, said her group hopes to establish a private fund to help the town's efforts.

"We look forward to supporting the African Heritage Community to implement a robust and sustainable reparative plan," Miller said.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

House Judiciary Committee
Writer Coleman Hughes testifies during a hearing on slavery reparations held by the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties on June 19, 2019, in Washington, DC. The subcommittee debated the H.R. 40 bill, which proposes a commission be formed to study and develop reparation proposals for African Americans. Zach Gibson/Getty Images

Miller told the Daily Hampshire Gazette that the fund sets the foundation for providing equity in the college town, which is located some 90 miles (145 kilometers) from Boston.

Miller and other proponents have cited restrictive housing policies that prevented Black families from purchasing homes in desirable parts of town. Black people were also shut out of jobs and educational opportunities at UMass Amherst, one of the state's largest and most prominent institutions, they say. As a result, the median income for Amherst's white families is more than two times that of Black families, and more than half its Black population lives below the poverty line.

Amherst is among hundreds of communities and organizations across the country seeking to provide reparations to Black people, from the state of California to cities like Providence, Rhode Island, religious denominations like the Episcopal Church and prominent colleges like Georgetown University in Washington.

Amherst advocates have cited Evanston, Illinois, which became the first American city to pay reparations last month, as a model for their efforts. That program uses marijuana tax revenues to give eligible Black residents $25,000 housing grants for down payments, repairs or existing mortgages.

Bockelman said local approval of a fund means the town can now begin accepting contributions for reparation work and decide on a financial plan going forward.

The council on Monday also approved creating the African Heritage Reparations Assembly to develop the town's reparations plan by Oct. 31, the newspaper reported. It will be made up of six Black residents and one representative from Reparations for Amherst.

Councilor Mandi Jo Hanneke was the lone vote against the fund, suggesting it was premature to establish it before forming the assembly.

Reparations Activists
Activists stand in line waiting to enter a hearing about reparation for the descendants of slaves, before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, at the Capitol in Washington, DC, on June 19, 2019. Amherst, Mass. recently approved the creation of a fund to pay reparations to Black residents. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images