When the City of Palm Springs, California, started destroying the homes of their neighbors, Alvin Taylor and his sister Pearl were still young. However, they can still recall the smoke's smell.
When Pearl Taylor Devers and I returned home, a neighbor's house would be reduced to charred rubble.
In order to make room for commercial construction near the city center, the City of Palm Springs started demolishing the Taylor's neighborhood, which was predominately black, in 1965. Their basic house had been constructed from the ground up by their carpenter father. Every Sunday, their housecleaning mother took the kids to church while working for celebrities like Lucille Ball and Amelia Earnhardt.
The Taylors were raised in Palm Springs' Section 14; due to racial segregation, it was one of the few places where black people could buy a house.
However, that was prior to the fires. Every week, a brand-new house would burn down, occasionally containing the possessions of a neighbor. In Section 14, the Taylor family moved from house to house in an effort to elude the flames. Their home was destroyed each time.
A 1968 report from the California Department of Justice described the destruction of Section 14 as a "city-engineered holocaust" following a thorough investigation. ".
Following the release last week of a comprehensive set of reparations proposals by the California Department of Justice Reparations Task Force, survivors of Section 14 may finally receive compensation nearly 60 years after the law's passage.
In order to address disparities among black Californians and ensure that injustices, like the demise of Section 14, never again occur, the 1,000-page report makes 115 legislative recommendations.
One of the controversial suggestions is to pay each black descendant of slaves at least $1.2 million (£943,400) in cash.
Regardless of whether or not the government decides to provide direct cash payments, the task force's members expressed their hope that their report will help the public understand the true cost of racism in California.
The state is deeply divided on the subject. According to a recent poll by the Public Policy Institute of California, 54 percent of likely California voters have a negative opinion of the task force, while 59 percent think the state ought to formally apologize for crimes against humanity and violations of human rights committed against African slaves and their descendants.
When the report was made public on Thursday, there was a charged atmosphere, with some saying that payments couldn't come soon enough.
One woman shouted, "It's my money, and I want it now!".
Others disagreed, arguing that it was unfair to expect this generation to foot the bill for reparations that will ultimately be paid for with tax dollars.
Lebanese-American Republican Assemblymember Bill Essayli from California said he disagrees with the task force's recommendations because.
According to him, the emphasis on victimhood and race is simply an effort to divide and oppose Americans. He said this to the BBC.
This discussion is not brand-new. Since the end of the Civil War, Americans have disagreed on the concept of reparations.
Since then, attempts to establish a commission to examine proposals for reparations for African Americans have been made by members of Congress, but they have all failed.
While federal efforts may have stalled, local discussions have become more heated, particularly in the years following George Floyd's murder. The first US city to provide financial compensation for racial housing discrimination was Evanston, Illinois. But if it were to be put into effect, California's plan would be the broadest yet.
According to Dr. Cheryl Grills, a task force member and clinical psychologist with expertise in racial trauma, it is important to acknowledge how the past still affects people today.
Although slavery is no longer practiced, Dr. Grills noted that "the ideology and the mechanisms to try to keep black people at the bottom are very much still with us.".
The Taylors claim to have learned this lesson firsthand. They claim that the destruction of their Section 14 home left them with a lasting core memory that would influence the rest of their lives.
The proud man who built the house for his family, their father, would not give it up. He made fruitless attempts to obtain a loan to purchase the land, but he was left with few options at a time when the majority of banks refused to issue mortgages to people of color.
The children's mother eventually packed them up and left Palm Springs and their father behind, according to Pearl, after he started drinking heavily to deal with the stress.
"We didn't witness the event when he was forced from the house. It must have been extremely upsetting for him, Pearl said. Alcoholism ultimately caused Mr. Taylor's death.
Alvin Taylor immersed himself in music as a young man and used his talent on the drums to play with well-known artists like Little Richard, George Harrison of The Beatles, and Elton John.
Success temporarily dulled the pain of losing his father, home, and youth. But Mr. Taylor claimed he turned to drugs when that stopped working.
"I was trying to find a way out. " .
Mr. Taylor was imprisoned after a protracted battle with addiction. At the age of 71, he now thinks that the destruction of his home is what caused him to struggle with addiction.
Looking back, he claimed, "it feels like we were really treated like animals and ignored as people.".
A task force was formed in California in part due to experiences like the Taylors'. But how can the costs of racism be quantified in money?
The task force used state data on the cost of harms in five categories—health, housing discrimination, unjust property takings, devaluation of black businesses, mass incarceration and overpolicing—to determine the cost. According to the task force, this list of harms is not complete and may be supplemented at a later time, increasing the overall cost above the $1 point 2 million per person suggested in the report.
Their calculations—which were "intentionally conservative" in an effort to highlight that racism in America has a cost—were intended to be educational estimates.
However, it will ultimately be up to California's state legislators to decide how much restitution should be paid after they decide whether to adopt the final report's recommendations. They might opt to only distribute a portion of the suggested sum, or they might choose to provide compensation to the affected parties in other forms, like loan forgiveness or other social initiatives.
As a result of the state's current budget deficit, some have hypothesized that Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom is unlikely to support a multibillion-dollar cash payout.
He previously stated that dealing with the legacy of slavery involves much more than just financial compensation. ".
Assemblyman Essayli stated that he believes it would be unfair to make everyone in the state pay for reparations because he is an immigrant's child.
"My family was not involved in the slave trade. He claimed that California was never a slave state. "I believe that racism is an ugly aspect of humanity, and I just don't see how we can quantify racism for a specific group. ".
The backlash has been frustrating but expected for Donald Tamaki, an attorney, civil rights activist, and the only non-black member of the task force.
He claimed that critics experience "sticker shock" because they are not accustomed to viewing reparations as a social responsibility. Even if you don't have children, Mr. Tamaki said he compares paying for reparations to using tax money to support public schools.
Cash reparations have, however, been used in the past, and Mr. Tamaki is aware of this precedent.
At the beginning of World War II, his family was one of the more than 120,000 Japanese Americans who were compelled to leave their homes and enter government-run internment camps.
Mr. Tamaki was a member of the legal team in 1983 that paved the way for the 1988 Civil Liberties Act, which offered an official apology for the internment of Japanese people and provided $20,000 to each survivor.
For the majority of Japanese Americans, he said, it was about regaining their dignity.
Pearl and Alvin's mother was finally able to buy a new house, along with the land, after the City of Palm Springs destroyed their family home. .
She told her sister with such excitement, Ms. Taylor Devers recalled. She had a strong sense of assurance that her house wouldn't be destroyed or taken from her. " .
According to Ms. Taylor Devers, the essence of what it means to be black in America is that resilience and determination to not only rebuild but also thrive. But the price has been high.
Less than a mile from the location of her family's former home, Ms. Taylor Devers spoke onstage at a Juneteenth rally and urged other Section 14 survivors to continue to be vigilant in their fight for justice and reparations. .
Alvin Taylor nodded as he stood nearby the stage. He cautiously made his way through desert rocks and thorny vegetation later that evening to stand on the concrete foundation of what had once been his house.
The piece of land is still undeveloped after 60 years.
"There literally isn't a monetary amount that could make up for the damage that was caused. We are aware of that, she added. "However, I believe that the notion that an attempt would be made to make some sort of restitution would be very beneficial.