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Massachusetts town votes to create $200,000 fund to pay reparations to black residents for slavery and discrimination

 A Massachusetts town has created a fund to pay reparations to black residents as communities and institutions across the country look to atone for slavery, discrimination and past wrongs amid the nation's ongoing racial reckoning. 

The Amherst Town Council on Monday voted 12-1 in favor of establishing the fund and requiring a two-thirds vote of the council to authorize any spending from it, The Daily Hampshire Gazette reported.

The town, which is located some 90 miles from Boston and has a population of just under 38,000, has yet to decide how a person would become eligible for the reparation fund, according to Athena O'Keeffe, Clerk of the Council. 

Amherst Town Manager Paul Bockelman and other town officials have suggested designating more than $200,000 in surplus budget funds as an initial seed investment.

Bockelman said local approval of a fund means the town can now begin accepting contributions for reparation work and decide on a financial plan going forward. 

Michele Miller, who cofounded Reparations for Amherst, a local advocacy group that pushed for the measure, said the fund sets the foundation for providing equity in the college town. 

The town of Amherst has joined the initiative of other towns around the United States in paying for reparations of their black members of the community

The town of Amherst has joined the initiative of other towns around the United States in paying for reparations of their black members of the community

Miller and other proponents have cited restrictive housing policies which prevented black families from purchasing homes in desirable parts of town. 

Amherst Town Manager Paul Bockelman was fully behind the new collective and believes that $200K in surplus funds will make up the initial investment for the fund

Amherst Town Manager Paul Bockelman was fully behind the new collective and believes that $200K in surplus funds will make up the initial investment for the fund

Black people were also shut out of jobs and educational opportunities at UMass Amherst, one of the state´s largest and most prominent institutions, they say. 

As a result, the median income for Amherst´s white families is more than two times that of black families, and more than half its black population lives below the poverty line.

Miller praised the town council for its decision, saying: 'Your actions will lay the foundation for our community to begin a collaborative healing process.

'Amherst will become a reason for other communities and our federal government to take long overdue action', she told WWLP.

The town's council on Monday also approved creating the African Heritage Reparations Assembly to develop the town's reparations plan by Oct. 31.


It will be made up of six Black residents and one representative from Reparations for Amherst.

Councilor Mandi Jo Hanneke was the lone vote against the fund, suggesting it was premature to establish it before forming the assembly. 

Miller, meanwhile, said Thursday her group hopes to establish a private fund to bolster Amherst´s efforts.

'We look forward to supporting the African Heritage Community to implement a robust and sustainable reparative plan,' she said.

Amherst is among hundreds of communities and organizations across the country seeking to provide reparations to Black people.

Amherst advocates cited Evanston, Illinois, which in March became the first American city to pay out reparations, as a model for their fund. 


That program uses marijuana tax revenues to give eligible Black residents $25,000 housing grants for down payments, repairs or existing mortgages. 

Black residents are eligible for the housing program if they, or their ancestors, lived in the city between 1919 and 1969 or if they can show they suffered housing discrimination due to the city's policies.

The recipients will be randomly selected if there are more applicants than available funds in the housing program.

Evanston have also committed $10million over the next decade towards their reparation efforts. 

Evanston's program could become a model for other cities and states grappling with whether to pursue their own reparations programs.

Other cities, including Chicago; Providence, Rhode Island; Burlington, Vermont; and Asheville, North Carolina have launched initiatives, though none has yet identified specific funding. 

California passed a bill modeled after the federal legislation, and lawmakers in New York and Maryland have introduced similar measures.

Private institutions have also announced campaigns. The Jesuit order of Catholic priests has pledged $100 million to benefit the descendants of the enslaved people it once owned.

'Reparations is the public policy prescription that addresses - and redresses - systemic racism,' said Ron Daniels, who oversees the National African American Reparations Commission, which consulted with Evanston on its proposal.

The practicality of implementing reparations programs, especially on a national scale, is still a matter of debate.

Reuters/Ipsos polls taken in June 2020, at the height of racial justice protests, found only one in five respondents agreed the United States should pay damages to descendants of enslaved people.

Some opponents ask whether taxpayers can afford to pay out what could be billions, or even trillions, of dollars. 

Others question how eligibility for such programs would be determined, whether by race, ancestry or evidence of discrimination.

Some black Evanston residents have objected to the city's plan's scope and size as inadequate, highlighting the difficulties inherent in designing a program that by all accounts can never fully ameliorate centuries of discrimination. 

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