New Jersey’s Legislative Black Caucus has launched a push for a special committee to investigate the history of slavery in the Garden State and the possibility of monetary reparations.

At a news conference in Trenton, Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter, D-Passaic, who leads the caucus, said she is the great-granddaughter of sharecroppers, which makes the issue personal.

“This is not about a southern-rooted entity of slavery,” Sumter said, “but about the harms and slavery codes that impacted New Jersey.”

New Jersey was the last of the Union states to formally abolish slavery following the Civil War.

Sumter is proposing the creation of an 11-member panel to examine New Jersey’s historic role in slavery and suggest action items.  That could include monetary reparations.The task force would issue an interim report within a year of creation.

State Sen. Sandra Cunningham, D-Hudson, said the formation of the task force is the “first step in righting our country’s greatest wrong.” 

The issue of reparations has been debated in Washington for decades.  CNN recently examined how it could work on a national scale. The issue has gained new attention as an issue among Democrats vying for the presidency.  New Jersey’s Cory Booker has taken the lead in the U.S. Senate with legislation to create a national study commission.  Booker told CNN his legislation was “a way of addressing head-on the persistence of racism, white supremacy, and implicit bias in our country.”

In order for New Jersey to form its own committee, both houses of the Legislature and the governor would have to give approval.  Gov. Phil Murphy said at an unrelated news conference that he wants New Jersey to “lead the nation” in social justice and would be “open-minded” to reparations.

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