San Francisco Apologizes for its anti-Black Racism

Supervisor-Shamann-Walton-Black-apology-passes-unanimously-022724, San Francisco Apologizes for its anti-Black Racism, Local News & Views
“People have a responsibility of righting the wrongs of the past because they still affect us here today,” Supervisor Shamann Walton said as the 11-member Board of Supervisors passed the “Black apology” resolution unanimously on Feb. 27. The news made headlines worldwide.

by Daphne Young

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has unanimously passed a resolution “Apologizing to African Americans and Their Descendants” on behalf of the City and County of San Francisco. 

The seven-page resolution was co-sponsored by all 11 members of the Board at the Feb. 27, 2024, SF Board of Supervisors meeting, Tuesday night. The historic resolution “acknowledges acts of fundamental injustice, terror, cruelty, and brutality committed against the Black San Francisco community and the depth of harm experienced by generations of Black San Franciscans, along with the debilitating impact this has had on Blacks in San Francisco.” 

(Read the full text of the resolution HERE.)

The resolution went on to offer the San Francisco Board of Supervisors’ deepest apologies to all African Americans and their descendants who came to San Francisco and were victims of systemic and structural discrimination, institutionalized racism, targeted acts of violence, and atrocities, as well as committing to the rectification and redress of past policies and misdeeds. 

The resolution was introduced by Supervisor Shamann Walton last December as one out of 111 recommendations from the San Francisco Reparations Plan, researched and produced by the African American Reparations Advisory Committee (AARAC). 

“This apology has been long overdue to Black San Franciscans to repair the past harms from the city,” said Supervisor Shamann Walton. “I’d like to thank my colleagues for unanimously co-sponsoring, passing this resolution, as well as supporting reparations for Black San Franciscans. We still have a long way to go; however, this is a first step to commit to the restoration of the ways racism has caused insult to Black humanity, including San Francisco making a commitment to substantial ongoing, systemic and programmatic investments in Black communities to address historical and present harms.”

San Francisco now joins Boston in becoming a major city that officially apologizes to African Americans. Boston’s City Council approved a resolution back in June of 2022, apologizing for Massachusetts’ role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. 

San Francisco too has a long history of creating and enforcing laws, policies and institutions that have perpetuated racial inequity throughout the city. In 1937, San Francisco was one of 239 cities that was “redlined” by the Federal Home Loan Bank Board and the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation. 

This process created “residential security maps,” which divided cities into areas that were appropriate for investment and areas that were subject to risk. In San Francisco, the Western Addition, the Fillmore and Bayview Hunters Point were some of the neighborhoods that were redlined; and because of this, African Americans were denied loans, city investment, infrastructure upgrades, and other economic opportunities.

Last September, the community gathered to support the implementation of the San Francisco Reparations Plan to right the wrongs of history and address the enormous economic disparities for Black San Franciscans, stating that reparations is not merely a buzzword or a political talking point but represents a moral imperative and a reckoning with the past that is long overdue. 

African-American-Reparations-Advisory-Committee-by-SF-HRC, San Francisco Apologizes for its anti-Black Racism, Local News & Views
Members of the African American Reparations Advisory Committee pose inside the Board of Supervisors chambers at SF City Hall. Blacks in San Francisco had long discussed reparations without much hope of tangible results. These are the people who delivered the impossible, at least the first step. It was Supervisor Shamann Walton who ushered the “Black apology” resolution through to a unanimous vote. – Photo: San Francisco Human Rights Commission

“The history of harms experienced by Black San Franciscans caused by the City and County of San Francisco is long and devastating,” said Eric McDonnell, former chair of the African American Reparations Advisory Committee. “The resulting wealth gap, housing insecurity and health disparities persist today. Issues of reparations demand an apology. Further, it requires restitution, justice and genuine efforts to rectify historical injustices. 

“This apology has been a long time coming. We are pleased and appreciative of the SF Board of Supervisors unanimously approving the apology resolution. We expect that what follows this apology will be sustained actions to repair the past harms and prevent current and future harms. The Reparations Plan presented by the African American Reparations Advisory Committee offers a roadmap.” 

In 1947, the San Francisco Planning Commission submitted a plan to raze and rebuild a large zone in the Fillmore encompassing 36 blocks. The following year, the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency was founded, which subsequently used redlining. San Francisco authorities deemed the Fillmore-Western Addition as “blighted,” which at the time was a vibrant Black community known as “Harlem of the West” and allowed the Planning Commission to institutionalize “urban renewal.” Over the next 20 years in the name of “slum clearance,” thousands of homes were razed and businesses destroyed, and more than 10,000 Black residents were displaced because of the policy. These are just a few of the many past atrocities that San Francisco committed against its Black residents.

AARAC’s study shows how Black San Franciscans have faced historical redlining, limiting where they could live, limited economic and workforce opportunities for prosperity, and vast disparities when it comes to education, housing, health outcomes and environmental justice. While only about 6% of San Franciscans are Black, Black residents make up about 40% of the city’s homeless population. A California study found in 2017 that San Francisco had the worst Black student achievement rate of any county in California: 19% of Black students in San Francisco passed the state’s reading test compared with 31% statewide. Black mothers have the highest mortality rates in San Francisco.

“An apology on public record is a vital part of corrective action and a milestone for healing for our community,” said Tinisch Hollins, former vice-chair of the African American Reparations Advisory Committee. “The San Francisco Reparations Plan outlines more than 100 additional ways for the City of San Francisco to demonstrate the sincerity of that apology by proactively creating pathways to equity for Black San Franciscans. It should be used as a blueprint for the next century.”

It was timely that this resolution was heard in the Government, Audit and Oversight Committee last week (Feb. 15, 2024), and has now been passed by the full Board of Supervisors during Black History Month.

During the public comment session at the GAO Committee meeting, lots of people lined up to speak and share their thoughts on the “Black Apology” resolution. Representatives from many diversity organizations were in the audience, including the Latino Task Force, Chinese for Affirmative Action and the Japantown Task Force Board of Directors.

“We urge the committee to approve this resolution,” said Nicholas Gee, an advocacy manager with Chinese for Affirmative Action, which is based in Chinatown. “We are really about racial solidarity and civil rights. So, we see this as an issue and an opportunity to link arms with other community members, specifically the African American community right now. It’s really a critical moment.”

But, some people in attendance don’t believe a “Black Apology” is enough. 

“It’s just cotton candy,” said Rev. Amos Brown, president of the SF Chapter of the NAACP. “We need to change our conduct.” Brown was referring to housing and economic opportunities that Blacks have been systematically denied in the Bay Area over the years.

After the public comment portion of the meeting, the Supervisors commented on the resolution.

“Thanks for ‘keeping it real’ around the discussion of an apology,” said Supervisor Preston.

“This is something that has to be acknowledged and has to go on record in the City of San Francisco,” said Supervisor Walton. “We are going to continue to hold our feet to the fire.”

Walton is referring to the fact that the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and Mayor London Breed late last year decided not to allocate financial support for a Reparations Office, even after the African American Reparations Advisory Committee held approximately 35 meetings for over two years and came up with a 130-page plan.

Though this resolution does not provide financial compensation, it is a part of the reparations process and meets one of the United Nations’ five criteria for reparations, which include:

1. Compensation

2. Rehabilitation

3. Guarantees of non-repetition

4. Restitution

5. Satisfaction, including public apologies

“I want to thank all the partners, locally and nationally, who contributed to the comprehensive process in creating the San Francisco Reparations Plan,” said Dr. Sheryl Evans Davis, executive director of the Human Rights Commission. “This apology is one of several recommendations that can be implemented immediately. I look forward to seeing San Francisco commit to righting the wrongs of the past towards our African American residents.” 

The next step for the “Black Apology” is that the mayor has an opportunity to sign this resolution within 10 days; otherwise it will automatically go into effect. 

Daphne Young is a freelance journalist in San Francisco who currently writes and reports for the SF Bay View and the SF Chronicle. She also fills in as an anchor and reporter at KQED Radio. The Chicago native has won numerous awards over the years and is a general assignment reporter who covers everything from breaking news to social justice, business, sports and entertainment. Contact her at