A board of commissioners in a North Carolina county has voted to support reparations and apologized for the county’s role in slavery, segregation and systemic discrimination against Black residents.
Similar to measures that have been passed this year in other North Carolina municipalities, including Asheville, Buncombe County, Durham and Carrboro, Orange County’s resolution does not call for direct payments. It focuses instead on county efforts to prioritize racial equity.
The Orange County commissioners on Monday approved the resolution on reparations by a 6-1 vote, The News & Observer of Raleigh reported. Board members also called on the county to work with public and private partners to invest in Black students and families, Black-owned farms and businesses, and Black workers and communities of color as initial steps to provide what it termed “overdue reparations for centuries of suffering, loss, anguish, injustice and trauma.”
The resolution could have gone further, said board Chair Renee Price, but it accounts for the time when Blacks were freed from slavery and had benefits of their new-found freedom taken away.
Price said more discussion is needed for how to fulfill the resolution's goals.
Such resolutions are rare across the nation, but momentum for such moves grew this summer amid the racial reckoning sweeping the country after the May death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Floyd, a Black man, died after an officer pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes as Floyd pleaded for air.
While the Supreme Court ruled in 1883 that the 13th Amendment promised “universal civil and political freedom” to formerly enslaved people, historians have noted that Jim Crow laws and unfairly run federal programs perpetuated vestiges of slavery until the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Commissioner Sally Greene amended the resolution to ask the federal government to help eliminate racial disparities in wealth by providing a universal basic income and universal income for all citizens, guaranteeing a federal living-wage job for all, requiring a minimum wage of $15 or higher with regular cost-of-living increases, and passing legislation calling for a federal reparations commission.
Commissioner Earl McKee said it was that addition, particularly the call for universal income, federal jobs and a $15 minimum wage, that stopped him from supporting the resolution. He also voiced concerns about how much those steps would cost, who would pay and how they would pay. But he also said the resolution speaks “to a need to address history, it speaks to a need to address the present, and it speaks to a need to address the future."
Orange County is the home to the state's public flagship university, UNC-Chapel Hill. According to the U.S. Census, as of 2019, the county was 76.9% white and 11.8% Black. The county seat of Hillsborough is approximately 40 miles (64 kilometers) northwest of Raleigh and less than an hour south of the North Carolina-Virginia line.