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Detroit council endorses reparations resolution; November vote possible

In addition to the City ordinance that would take up the issue of reparations, a petition drive was launched by the Michigan Democratic Black Party Caucus to get the issue on the November ballot. (Shutterstock photo)

Detroit is stepping up its voice in the national reparations movement for African Americans, the effort to set up government funding and other initiatives meant to redress Black people for slavery and centuries of systemic discrimination and inequality.

The City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution calling for the Detroit government to create a city task force to explore the issue and acknowledge the Detroit government has a history of racially motivated, unjust policies and practices. It also advocates for an end to the state of Michigan’s ban on affirmative action.

The resolution also supports reparations efforts in Congress, which includes supporting a bill first introduced in 1989 by the late U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr.



“The purpose of this resolution is to help establish processes, develop, and implement community reparations in Detroit for mass-historic unjust treatment of Detroit’s majority Black population,” part of the draft resolution reads.

The bill was sponsored by Council President Pro Tem Mary Sheffield. She introduced the effort earlier this year but removed it, saying she wanted to re-introduce the measure closer to Juneteenth, the June 19 holiday marking the emancipation of enslaved people in the U.S. Sheffield didn’t respond to requests for comment by BridgeDetroit.

Lauren Hood, chair of the Detroit Planning Commission and a longtime Detroit community developer, has been involved in a working group that helped draft the resolution.

“We looked at measures taken by other cities like Evanston, Illinois, and also the actions taken by some academic institutions at Georgetown University as guides to help shape the Detroit resolution,” Hood said.

The draft of the measure urges the city to examine a broad range of issues that may need a  “racial equity framework.”

The issues: 

  • Right to water and sanitation.
  • Right to environmental health.
  • Right to safety.
  • Right to live free from discrimination, including people with disabilities, immigrants, LGBTQ and others.
  • Right to recreation.
  • Right to access and mobility.
  • Right to housing.
  • Right to the fulfillment of basic needs. 

Proposal P and other efforts

In addition to the City Council resolution, two separate political efforts for Detroit reparations are underway. The ballot measure Proposal P calls for major changes in the way the government operates by revising the city charter. 

Among the revisions would be the formation of a task force of “reparations and African-American justice” in Detroit’s government. The city would have to find a way to pay for the effort, whether through local taxes or private donations. 

You can read the proposed revised charter here. The section about the reparations task force starts on Page 61. Proposal P faces major legal challenges, and there is still a chance that it may be taken off the Aug. 3 ballot.

And this week, a petition drive was launched by the Michigan Democratic Black Party Caucus to get the reparations issue on the November ballot in Detroit. The initiative is called “Yes on Fairness.” It would set up a committee that would determine how to create a reparations fund to address historical discrimination against the Black community in Detroit.

The group needed about 4,000 signatures by June 14. Attorney Todd Perkins told WDIV-Channel 4 this week they have enough to make it onto the ballot.

“We never got our 40 acres and a mule. We should have continued what happens after 1865, and then we had all of those things that set us back like Jim Crow,” Perkins told the television station.

In a separate interview with Fox-2, Perkins said money for reparations and other programs could come from revenues from the recreational marijuana sales in the city. 

State and national efforts 

The Detroit measures come at a time when at least one state and several cities across the nation have passed measures supporting reparations for Black people. Further, several colleges nationwide have passed reparations efforts that look at those institutions’ past roles in slavery.

In California, the state government this month set up a task force to come up with proposals to provide reparations to Black Californians. That effort could take up to two years. 

The nation’s first Black reparations fund was approved by the City of Evanston, Illinois, in 2019. The Chicago suburb approved a $10 million fund meant to deal with past racially discriminatory housing policies and practices against the Black community. At least five other cities have passed measures examining reparations to local Black residents.  

In Washington, a reparations bill in the U.S. House passed out of committee in April for the first time since Conyers first introduced it 32 years ago. Conyers, a Detroit Democrat who died in 2019, served 52 years in Congress. The bill, called House Resolution 40, would create a commission to study reparations. Its fate remains uncertain, and the Biden administration hasn’t endorsed it. 

U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence, a Southfield Democrat, says members of the Congressional Black Caucus brought up the reparations bill to Biden this week, according to Politico. “He didn’t disagree with what we’re doing,” Lawrence told Politico. 

A majority of Detroit voters support a reparations program to compensate Black people over past discriminatory housing policies and practices by the city, according to an April poll commissioned by the Michigan Democratic Party’s Black Caucus.

The poll is intended to help fuel “the political conversation” of establishing a fund in Detroit during this local election year, when the mayor and City Council seats are on the ballot, said Ed Sarpolus, a political pollster and executive director of Target Insyght, a Lansing consulting firm.

The federal government has agreed to reparations for other groups in the past. Native Americans have received land and billions of dollars for various benefits and programs for being forcibly exiled from their native lands. For Japanese Americans, $1.5 billion was paid to those who were placed into internment camps during World War II.

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