Princeton has joined the growing list of towns that have endorsed proposed legislation to establish a state-level task force to study making reparations to African Americans living in New Jersey who are the descendants of slaves.
The Princeton Council adopted a resolution in support of state Senate Bill S-386 and its companion, state Assembly Bill A-938, at its Nov. 14 meeting. The two bills, which would establish the New Jersey Reparations Task Force, are pending in the state legislature. They were introduced Jan. 11.
The two bills were endorsed by Lawrence Township in May. The bills also have been endorsed by the City of Trenton, East Orange, South Orange, Maplewood, Plainfield, Montclair and Newark. Mercer County also endorsed it.
The proposed bills, if enacted into law, would create an 11-member task force to “examine the lingering negative effects of slavery on living African Americans and on society in New Jersey and the United States,” according to the state Senate bill.
The task force would make “recommendations for remedies, as well as what form those remedies would take and to whom those remedies would be awarded,” according to the state Senate bill.
The task force would have two years to complete its mission.
The Princeton Council stated in its resolution of support that the town is committed to racial justice and equity, and reiterated that it had adopted a resolution in 2020 that recognized racism as a public health crisis.
The six-page resolution, which was drafted by Not In Our Town’s Truth and Transformation Committee, outlined the history of slavery in New Jersey and the United States.
The resolution also discussed the impact of “historic and continued systemic racial discrimination” – from housing and education and to the legal system.
Not In Our Town is “a multi-racial, multi-faith group of individuals who stand together for racial justice and inclusive communities,” according to its website at www.niotprinceton.org.
The resolution stated that slavery was not a Southern institution and that it made deep roots in New Jersey. The first enslaved African Americans arrived in New Netherland – which included parts of New Jersey – in the early 1600s.
As the demand for labor increased, more slaves were imported to New Jersey, the resolution said. The Province of New Jersey enacted the Slave Code in 1704, which banned Blacks – free and enslaved – from owning property. It also made it illegal for them to stay out past curfew.
New Jersey outlawed the importation of enslaved African Americans in 1786 and subsequently enacted a law in 1804 that abolished slavery gradually, the resolution said. But in 1844, the state restricted access to voting to white men through the New Jersey Constitution. It was the first state in the Northeast to do so, according to the resolution.
In 1863, the state Legislature approved “Peace Resolutions” that denied President Abraham Lincoln’s power to free the slaves. New Jersey also voted against the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that abolished slavery, according to the resolution.
The resolution also stated that New Jersey refused to ratify the 14th Amendment, which granted citizenship to all people born in the United States, including slaves. It also refused to ratify the 15th Amendment that granted the right to vote to African American men.
Princeton University had a reputation as being a school fit for white Southerners, the resolution stated. Nearly 40% of its students came from Southern slave-holding states, on average. The students attempted to lynch an abolitionist in 1835, according to the resolution.
The fact that Princeton University attracted Southerners impacted the manner in which the university allocated its money, and additionally shaped its longtime exclusion of African Americans from studying at the university.
Sherrod Smith, vice chairman of the Princeton Civil Rights Commission, told the Princeton Council that the resolution illuminates why it is vital for the state Legislature to approve the bills to establish a state-wide reparations task force.
There is a “moral imperative” for Princeton to join the list of towns that support the proposed bills to create the task force, he said.
From human enslavement and attempted lynching to enforced racial segregation, Princeton has its own complex history with racial inequality and violence against African American citizens, and that’s why the Civil Rights Commission is urging the Princeton Council to adopt the resolution, said Nick DiDomizio, the commission’s secretary.
Soorya Baliga, who belongs to Not In Our Town, said the resolution is “in line” with the group’s mission statement – “to identify and expose political, economic and cultural systems which enabled white supremacy to exist.”
“One force that strengthens white supremacy is the lack of accountability around these systems. Reparations is about acknowledging and addressing past and present harms so we can begin to move forward in an equitable manner,” Baliga said.
“Reparations is a step on our path to racial equity and I commend the Princeton Council for continuing to walk that path,” she said.
Princeton Councilwoman Eve Niedergang thanked Not In Our Town and the Princeton Civil Rights Commission for “bringing this forward. I hope to see speedy action on the state’s part in moving this forward.”