Rabb introduces state-based slavery reparations bill on 400th anniversary of enslaved Africans arriving to North America

HARRISBURG, Aug. 30 – State Rep. Christopher Rabb, D-Phila., introduced legislation that would establish a reparations plan to combat systemic racism impacting Pennsylvanians of African descent on the 400th anniversary of enslaved Africans arriving to Virginia in 1619.

“For many other disenfranchised groups, the United States government has provided reparations and our commonwealth must follow suit,” Rabb said. “I am proud to introduce this bill for our commonwealth to atone for its role in this heinous institution that has resulted in generations of systemic racism bolstered by public policy and culture practice statewide.”

Rabb said that slavery in Pennsylvania has been documented as early as 1639, with Philadelphia becoming the region’s largest port for importing enslaved Africans.

“Many of the colonists who settled Pennsylvania tolerated slavery, including William Penn who owned 12 enslaved people. These people were responsible for building his colonial estate, Pennsbury Manor. Additionally, despite the Gradual Emancipation Act, passed in 1780, no enslaved person was ever emancipated, with many living and dying in bondage,” Rabb said. “Pennsylvania has always been a willing enabler of the subjugation of an entire race of people and this subjugation has been maintained statewide through institutional racism.”

The bill outlines a state-based reparations plan that would have four parts:

  • A formal apology from the Pennsylvania General Assembly for its complicity in the treatment of people of African descent during and after the gradual abolition of slavery beginning in 1780.
  • The creation of a commission to determine a methodology to quantify the financial impact of past and current laws, court decisions, government programs and practices that have systematically disadvantaged African-Americans.
  • Acknowledge that chronic poverty and other inequities are the direct result of racist public policy enacted into state and federal laws.
  • Provide significant financial redress to African-American residents of Pennsylvania.

The bill would implement an annual opt-in entitlement program for eligible participants. To qualify, applicants would need to be residents of Pennsylvania and provide government documentation verifying their ethnicity as Black/African-American for a certain number of years.

The financial reparations include tax and other benefits to eligible individuals and targeted geographic communities.

Determination of the value of these non-cash benefits would be based on several factors, including genealogical connection to one or more enslaved ancestors in the U.S.; one or more enslaved ancestors in Pennsylvania; and one or more ancestors of verified African descent who resided in Pennsylvania during one or more historical eras described by the established commission.

“Our commonwealth can adopt resolutions recognizing historical dates such as Juneteeth and eras in black history, but it’s not enough to account for its complicity in the physical, mental and financial trauma of an entire race of people at the hands of actual bondage and policies laced with racism,” Rabb said. “Pennsylvania must do more to wholly and sincerely uphold the declaration in its constitution that ensures certain and indefeasible rights for all residents.”