Social justice leaders say lawmakers should advance NJ Reparations Task Force bill
What was New Jersey’s role in the enslavement of Black people? And could a task force be the answer to the descendants of slaves getting reparations?
Many people tend to think of slavery only taking place in southern states. But even New Jersey had a role during that time of the country’s history. In 1818, over 100 Black men, women and children were held captive in East Brunswick by Middlesex County Judge Jacob Van Winkle.
Van Winkle ran the Van Winkle slavering – a ring that captured free and enslaved Blacks and sold them into permanent slavery.
Now there is a bill in the New Jersey Legislature that would establish a Reparations Task Force in the state. It is known as Bill S322.
“We’re pushing this year to make New Jersey the second state in the country to pass a reparations task force,” says Ryan Haygood, with the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice.
Bill S322 was introduced in the state Senate on Jan. 14, 2020, but has since stalled in the Legislature. Both Haygood and New Jersey Lt. Gov. Shelia Oliver says that they agree that the lack of representation in New Jersey leadership plays a role in the delay.
“The [state] Assembly speaker is Craig Coughlin…the [state] Senate president is Steve Sweeney. No legislation moves unless those two men, who happen to be white men, move the legislation,” says Haygood.
"The life experiences are different. And because the life experiences are different, different people from diverse backgrounds can articulate the perspectives of different sectors of the New Jersey community,” says Oliver.
The goal of the task force would be to study New Jersey's history during slavery and recommend policies to address its enduring harm. Reparation proposals would be included in the task force's mission, which would go to the descendants of enslaved people, like those enslaved by the Van Winkle ring.
“If you polled 100 people, I bet a good number of people would say back to us, ‘New Jersey didn’t have slavery.’ First of all, we just have to be real about who we have been historically,” says Haygood.
This weekend, as New Jersey celebrates Juneteenth for the first time as a state holiday, those at the forefront of the social justice fight say that this is an important moment and the right time to move on the reparations task force bill.
“Juneteenth is the commemoration of the announcement of about 250,000 enslaved people in Galveston, Texas that they were free,” says Haygood. “Those enslaved Black folks were actually freed actually two and a half years before they got the formal announcement.”
If the bill advances and ultimately making its way to Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk, the task force would get two years to conduct their studies and come up with recommendations and policies.
California is the only state that has a reparations task force in place, and it met for the first time earlier this month.