MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The St. Paul City Council passed a resolution Wednesday to create a commission looking into reparations to African Americans for slavery.

The capitol city joins other organizations calling for change from the disparities created by historical inequities between Whites and Blacks.

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It starts with an apology for historic wrongs, like the enslavement of people at Fort Snelling — including Dred Scott. His fight for freedom set up a United States Supreme Court case that was the backdrop for the Civil War. Another historic wrong was the destruction of the Rondo neighborhood in the 1950s in order to build Interstate 94.

The council voted to start official talks about reparations.

“One of the first things we’re doing by way of this resolution is apologizing for American slavery, and the way in which our state and city have benefited from it,” said City Councilmember Jane Prince.

(credit: CBS)

She says the resolution also allows for the forming of the St. Paul Recovery Act Community Reparations Commission. It will advise the city on long-term investments to eliminate the disparities that exist between Whites and Blacks.

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“The debt that our country owes to African American slavery because it essentially propelled us to being an economic powerhouse as a brand-new country,” Prince said. “Free labor made our commerce and industry very successful.”

Trahern Crews is leading the charge from the community to make sure existing and future resources are deployed more equitably.

“I think once people start acknowledging, ‘OK, we did something wrong,’ the next step is to start repairing the wrong,” Crews said. “We’re also calling on institutions who are in St. Paul to address racism, and institutional racism within their organizations.”

In a statement, Mayor Melvin Carter says every institution that has systematically enforced, sanctioned or profited from the evil of slavery must participate fully in this work.

“We’re really excited that we’re at this point where we can address the racial wealth gap, the education gap and past injustices and start getting some healing going on American today,” Crews said.

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The new commission will begin work in about six months. The goal is to have recommendations back to city council members later this year. There has been no discussion about cash payments to individuals, but both Prince and Crews say they’re not taking it off the table.

Reg Chapman