Massachusetts town creates fund to pay reparations to black residents

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A liberal Massachusetts town has created a fund that will be used to pay reparations to eligible black residents to “repair past harms” it committed against them or their ancestors.

The Amherst Town Council voted 12-1 earlier this week in favor of establishing the fund, council clerk Athena O’Keeffe confirmed.

No money is in the fund yet, but town finance officials have proposed a plan to put $210,000 in the account later this year, the Daily Hampshire Gazette reported.

Amherst, a town of more than 39,000 with a black population of just over 2,100, according to the Census Bureau, is home to the University of Massachusetts’ flagship campus and Amherst College, a liberal arts university.

Voter registration data shows it’s an overwhelmingly liberal town. Of all registered voters, fewer than 7 percent have been Republican since 2004, while about 50 percent have registered as Democrats.

The town, about 90 miles from Boston, has not yet determined who would be eligible to receive money from the reparations fund, O’Keeffe said.

The town council also earlier this week voted unanimously to adopt a charge for the African Heritage Reparation Assembly, which will be made up of six black residents, two of whom are current or former members of elected bodies in Amherst, and one representative of the advocacy group Reparations for Amherst.

The charge puts the assembly in a position to propose a municipal reparations plan by Oct. 31 to the town council, which would then vote on the plan.

Town Manager Paul Bockelman said having the fund means the town can begin accepting contributions to it and the town council can craft orders that would place money in it, the Gazette reported.

Michele Miller, who co-founded the local advocacy group Reparations for Amherst, hailed the creation of the fund as a step toward equity.

Miller and other proponents have said restrictive policies such as redlining, which prevented black families from buying homes in the parts of town where value appreciated the most, have led to intergenerational inequality. 

They also point to discriminatory hiring practices at local businesses and a lack of educational opportunities at UMass Amherst, one of the most prominent institutions in the state.

“Amherst will become a reason for other communities and our federal government to take long-overdue action,” Miller told local TV station 22News.

“And your actions will lay the foundation for our community to begin a collaborative healing process.”

Advocates in Amherst said they’re modeling their effort to pay out reparations on that of Evanston, Illinois, which became the first American city to pay reparations in March.

That program uses pot tax revenues to give eligible black residents $25,000 housing grants for repairs, mortgage payments or other projects.

Black residents are eligible if they or their ancestors lived in the city between 1919 and 1969. They’re also eligible if they can show the city’s housing policies discriminated against them and caused damage.

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