The Fight For Reparations Gains Real Momentum | Crooked Media
March 13, 2024
What A Day
The Fight For Reparations Gains Real Momentum

In This Episode

  • Americans have considered the idea of reparations for more than a century, but there’s real momentum around the movement to make it happen right now. Multiple states and localities have launched studies into doing it and California has even introduced legislation. We’ll talk to Pulitzer Prize and Emmy Award-winning journalist Trymaine Lee whose podcast “Uncounted Millions” looks at ways reparations could reshape the lives of the descendants of formerly enslaved people.
  • And in headlines: The House overwhelmingly passed a bill to ban TikTok from U.S. app stores unless it splits from its China-based owner, a Georgia judge tossed six charges in Trump’s election interference case, and New Orleans rats are breaking into police headquarters to munch down on confiscated weed.


Show Notes:



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Priyanka Aribindi: It’s Thursday, March 14th. I’m Priyanka Aribindi.


Juanita Tolliver: And I’m Juanita Tollivera and this is What a Day. The Daily news pod that’s worried about baby foxes. So we’re wearing giant fox masks. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Just like a Virginia Wildlife center that posted a viral video yesterday of its staff doing the same thing. They are wearing masks so that Fox babies don’t imprint on humans, but we are doing it so the babies don’t get attached to our updates about Trump’s many, many trials. 


Juanita Tolliver: When I hear imprinting, I think about that wolf imprinting on that baby in Twilight. 


Priyanka Aribindi: One of the only nature facts I know. [laughter] [music break] On today’s show, lawmakers get closer to ripping up my cherished TikTok away from me. The House passed a bill to ban the app, and it now heads to the Senate. Plus, New Orleans police said that rats are sneaking into evidence rooms to munch on confiscated pot of all things.


Juanita Tolliver: But first, I’m going to focus on the current political movement for reparations and how we got here. The notion of reparations has been an ongoing question in this nation for more than a century. But right now, multiple states and localities have launched studies and introduced legislation to try to make it happen. There seems to be a real possibility of Black people finally getting some form of restitution. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yes. Okay, I’m really glad that you are digging into this today. Tell us more. California has been leading the nation when it comes to reparations legislation. What have they proposed in their bill so far? 


Juanita Tolliver: At the end of January, members of California’s Legislative Black Caucus introduced 14 measures that include proposals for restoring property taken during race based uses of eminent domain, protections for natural hairstyles, amending the California Constitution to prohibit involuntary servitude for incarcerated persons, and more. The proposals are backed up by previously conducting studies related to state sanctioned racism, and more states are likely to follow California’s first in the nation proposals as Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Colorado, and New York have also launched studies. But have you ever imagine what would actually happen if the descendants of formerly enslaved people received reparations? Like, how would their lives be impacted? What changes would they experience in their communities? More importantly, now that we live in a time where reparations are being studied and proposed in a substantive way, when could they arrive and how many different forms of restitution should be considered? So, Priyanka, I talked earlier with Pulitzer Prize and Emmy Award winning journalist, MSNBC correspondent and host Trymaine Lee. He begins to answer those questions with his series Uncounted Millions: Black America’s Fight to Be Made Whole. Lee’s podcast takes listeners on a multigenerational journey about how one American family moved from slavery to freedom during times of war and peace. Examining the impact of reparations every step of the way. The finale comes out tomorrow. I started by asking Trymaine to break down how he arrived at this moment when reparations are actually on the table. 


Trymaine Lee: We’ve known as Black folks that there’s been so much stripped from us, so much that has been stolen from us, so much that has–


Juanita Tolliver: Right. 


Trymaine Lee: –been denied us through history. And so we finally found ourselves in the moment, after decades and decades of really inaction on the federal level. Right. H.R. 40 has been introduced a number of times by John Conyers and then by Sheila Jackson Lee. But what we’re seeing now is some movement on the state level. I think states have figured out to a degree, a formula in which you can apply actual injury. You can say, this is how real people have been harmed. This is how the state stripped you of land or wealth or resources, and they’re using that as a way to show actual harm. And so far we’re seeing movement in Chicago, Illinois, and now New York. At least California, now they’ve pushed further actually introducing bills. But in other states, they’re actually forming task forces to actually engage with the idea of reparations and what it could look like if you were to, you know, make Black folks whole. 


Juanita Tolliver: I appreciate you mentioning California because they’re leading the nation, as you said, they’re pushing through actual legislation here. They did establish a reparations task force back in 2020 to produce a report about how systemic racism has impacted Black residents, but they have yet to actually compensate anybody. Like, what is the holdup there? Because we know California lawmakers introduced 14 reparations bills in January, but none of them include any kind of system for cash payouts. So what’s standing in the way of states like California actually delivering on reparations? 


Trymaine Lee: There are a lot of folks who not just because they don’t believe that Black folks deserve it, that Black folks aren’t worthy of any kind of reparations, let alone cash payments. And so I think some of the plan here is knowing how much pushback there actually will be around the idea of cutting checks to Black people. Baked into these some of these bills, it’s like returning property that was stolen through eminent domain, especially if the fuel of that taking was race based. 


Juanita Tolliver: Yes. 


Trymaine Lee: And so I think they’re trying to approach this in a way where, again, they can show actual, real harm, a real family whose business was taken through urban renewal, which many call Negro removal, um that swept across this country. Trying to show like actual incidents, actual acts of actual theft. And so I think it’s going to be an uphill battle, but I think they’re further along than most, and they actually have the gumption to not only study it in whole the harms of slavery, actually putting some shape to that in a way that I think um, you know, might lead the way for others. 


Juanita Tolliver: And your podcast follows the story of Gabriel Coakley, one of the only Black people to receive anything close to reparations and the impact it had on his life. You described him as a singular focused go getter who was really just about his business, especially when it came to freeing his family. So how does his story make the case for how reparations can provide true restitution to descendants of formerly enslaved people? 


Trymaine Lee: There are so many people who lived a Black American experience that we’ll never understand. People who have been, you know, lost to time. 


Juanita Tolliver: Yes. 


Trymaine Lee: Lost in records. But there are heroes and not just the big names that we’ve all heard of, right? But these names, like Gabriel Coakley, who was a free man in the 1850s and started an oyster business and became very successful, and he started to buy his people’s freedom. Because in D.C. at the time, in the 1850s and ’60s, you had a sizable population of free Black people right next door to a huge population of enslaved Black people. And sometimes those folks were in the same household. So Gabriel Coakley’s wife and his kids were all still enslaved while he was free. So he began to buy his people’s freedom one by one. And then in 1862, as Lincoln is mulling this idea of emancipating enslaved people in D.C., a year before the Emancipation Proclamation, their scheme was, hey, why don’t we just pay reparations for slave owners? We’ll free their their enslaved people, but why don’t we just make them whole for the value that they’re going to lose in their enslaved people. 


Juanita Tolliver: Make them whole? I’m confused. The focus on the enslavers, making them whole? 


Trymaine Lee: Reparations for slavery, but for white people. 


Juanita Tolliver: Mmm. 


Trymaine Lee: So this actually is signed into law and they end up allotting 0.2% of the federal budget, which in today’s dollars would be $12 billion, right? To make white enslavers whole. And so we start pouring through this list because I had this idea, I’m like, you know what? How does this kind of solidify caste in DC, in America? And so we’re looking through this list of the white enslavers who got reparations. We find a Black man’s name, Gabriel Coakley, and start to uncover this story of how he freed his people and how he opted not to register his family as free people. So what happens is, if you became free or you bought somebodys freedom, you had to register them as free people. But he decided not to as a form of protection, because if you free them and they’re free, as long as slavery is still legal and he’s the by the letter of the law, their slave owner, then he has some sort of legal protection. So because he was still technically an enslaver by the letter of the law, he was able to apply for reparations for his people and got it to the tune of today’s value, $170,000. 


Juanita Tolliver: Wow. 


Trymaine Lee: While 90% of Black people in this country are still enslaved. And so what we see happen, generations after. He’s buying property. He’s building his business. His descendants become deans at Howard University. This story of Gabriel Coakley is a story of what could have been if only Black folks were made whole. Just imagine the possibilities if America finally, for once, did right by us. 


Juanita Tolliver: It’s also the perfect rebuttal to people like I think one of the episodes played a clip of Mitch McConnell, of course, being like, well, we ain’t got nothing to do with this. It’s been–


Trymaine Lee: Right. 


Juanita Tolliver: –a century plus. We’re not responsible. I sense your passion in this topic. 


Trymaine Lee: Yeah. [laugh]. 


Juanita Tolliver: So I want to know, as you were researching it, what was the fact or the storyline or the thread that you pulled on that gave you the most shock and surprise? 


Trymaine Lee: There were a number of surprises, I think in episode three. This wasn’t just archival tape, and it wasn’t just sitting with the family, and we were in the bowels of some of these local archives. Tracking from Gabriel Coakley freeing his people and getting compensated through the generations until now. 


Juanita Tolliver: Yeah. 


Trymaine Lee: And so by following these descendants and getting into the ancestor’s story, I think it reveals a lot about how we’ve lived and died in this country. But the story of Gabriel Coakley alone. I mean, the idea that when we think of first of all when we think of slavery, I think we think of that agricultural, that cotton, that tobacco, that sugarcane, that deep South South Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana. But slavery looks different if you’re in a Charleston where there’s certainly a lot of torturous, you know, harvesting of rice. D.C. is the same thing where folks are being leased to other people. So I think this also reveals the diversity of our experiences through enslavement and the idea that there is this bubbling population of free Black people in this country while the country is, you know, raging at war right over the very ideal of freedom and slavery. And so I think I learned a lot in reporting this, but as always, it’s going back to, you know, real people, how they really lived and that these ideas that we have right now of reaching towards freedom and trying to reach towards a fuller sense of our citizenship, we’ve always had that. 


Juanita Tolliver: Yeah. 


Trymaine Lee: That is not new. That’s what we’ve inherited. 


Juanita Tolliver: Yeah. 


Trymaine Lee: When you think about reparations, you can’t help but think about the terror and the horrors and the violence. But there also was beauty and ingenuity and love and family. 


Juanita Tolliver: And thank you for layering it through humanity. Right. That’s the lens that I hope everyone listens with. I know the season finale of Uncounted Millions is dropping this week, so without giving it all away again, no spoilers in this part, can you tell us what listeners can expect to hear as the series wraps up? And what one thing, if any, one thing that you want them to take away from listening? 


Trymaine Lee: I think that this struggle lives with us, that we’ve had to fight and we’ve had to push. We’ve had to lift our voices in ways that, you know, our collective throats are hoarse at this point. 


Juanita Tolliver: Yes. 


Trymaine Lee: From carrying the shouts of our ancestors. Right. But I think that what we see happening in California and Illinois and in New York is by virtue of what we’ve inherited, that struggle. And it’s not just struggle against an oppressive force. It’s struggle in the name of everyone that came before us. And so I think this family, the Flateau Coakley family, you know, they embody the sense of Gabriel Coakley. Their spirit lives on. It’s been a beautiful story to tell. It’s actually one of those that like hurts to wrap up. I’m like, can we get a bonus? 


Juanita Tolliver: Right? Because I’m like, oh, I need visuals for this experience too, if you haven’t made–


Trymaine Lee: Listen. 


Juanita Tolliver: –those arrangements. So come on. 


Trymaine Lee: But I do hope that people really walk away with the sense that these ideas of us being made whole. It’s not just about a paycheck, even though cut the checks, but it really is about getting our arms around the fullness of our citizenship. Because, you know, it’s arguable that we’re not yet full citizens. 


Juanita Tolliver: Which is a component of restitution. 


Trymaine Lee: Exactly. 


Juanita Tolliver: Sitting in our rights fully. 


Trymaine Lee: Come on. I think it’s important because people hear reparations. And [?] you didn’t own those slaves. And I ain’t own no slave. And you were never a slave. That’s not nearly the the point. As [?] says, a country can’t just claim its credits without its debits. And so hopefully folks walk away with a better understanding of what could be and what could have been. 


Juanita Tolliver: That was my conversation with Trymaine Lee, Pulitzer Prize and Emmy Award winning journalist, MSNBC correspondent, and host of Uncounted Millions: Black America’s Fight to Be Made Whole. The finale comes out tomorrow. You can listen to Uncounted Millions wherever you get your podcasts. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yes, and highly, highly recommend that you do that. The level of research, contact with living descendants today. 


Juanita Tolliver: Right. 


Priyanka Aribindi: All of the work that went into this product is just so striking and really just contributes to the impact of this work and what is possible here. 


Juanita Tolliver: I think everybody should check it out too. And Trymaine clearly is passionate about this topic, and it really shines through in the texture of this entire show. So give it a listen, y’all. We’ll be back after some ads. [music break]




Priyanka Aribindi: Let’s wrap up with some headlines. 


[sung] Headlines. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yesterday, the House overwhelmingly passed the bill to give TikTok’s Chinese owner, ByteDance, about six months to divest its American assets or be banned from U.S. app stores. The final vote was 352 to 65, and the backlash was swift. A spokesperson from China’s foreign ministry told CNN yesterday that the US advancing the bill was, quote, “resorting to acts of bullying.” As a reminder, U.S. lawmakers were worried about the Chinese government’s possible control over TikTok. So the Chinese foreign ministry criticizing the vote isn’t helping to dispel any of those concerns. 


Juanita Tolliver: Not really. 


Priyanka Aribindi: But the bill’s next steps in the Senate are more up in the air. We will obviously continue to follow it. And I mean, I have personal skin in the game here. So don’t worry, I’m on it guys. 


Juanita Tolliver: You said from my cold dead hands. 


Priyanka Aribindi: [laugh] I know. [laughter]


Juanita Tolliver: Y’all could cut that. [laugh]


Priyanka Aribindi: No. It’s true. 


Juanita Tolliver: [laugh] Turning to the election interference case against former President Donald Trump in Georgia, a judge dismissed three of the criminal counts against him on Wednesday. Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee also dismissed three other counts against some of his co-defendants. The charges were all related to whether they tried to coerce Georgia officials to violate their oaths of office. McAfee decided that the allegations by prosecutors were not detailed enough. The good news is that McAfee left 35 other criminal counts intact, including ten charges against Trump. This includes the central racketeering charge against Trump and his 14 remaining co-defendants, all of whom have pleaded not guilty. Also this week, Judge McAfee is expected to decide whether Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis should be disqualified from the case because of misconduct allegations. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is dropping his pick for vice president very soon, and among the people he has considered for the nightmare position is New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The New York Times reported yesterday that RFK Jr has been in touch with Rodgers quote, “pretty continuously.” It’s not entirely surprising Rodgers endorsed RFK Jr in November. They are both vehement anti-vaxxers, and CNN reported that the Super Bowl champion has also shared conspiracies in the past about the Sandy Hook shooting not being real, and that it was a government inside job. Sounds like a person who is deeply, deeply rooted in reality and definitely someone who should be given a platform. 


Juanita Tolliver: Also, this amount of alignment in conspiracy theories is uncanny. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah it’s weird. 


Juanita Tolliver: They are on the same page in the worst way. 


Priyanka Aribindi: No, we hate it. And yes, these are the same disgusting theories that prompted the families of the Sandy hook victims to sue conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. Also on the list of possible contenders for RFK Jr’s ticket is former Minnesota governor and former wrestler Jesse Ventura. RFK Jr will make his V.P. announcement on March 26th in Oakland, California. You bet your bottom dollar I will not be watching that. [laughter] Won’t touch with a ten foot pole. I’m sorry. I’m sorry to Oakland, honestly. That’s who I’m sorry to. I’m sorry about the convergence of the crazies. 


Juanita Tolliver: In northern Gaza, the United Nations delivered aid for the first time in three weeks. The Israeli military said a small convoy of six trucks carrying rations used a new military route to enter through an Israeli border crossing on Tuesday. The convoy carried enough food for around 25,000 people, but the U.N. has warned that more than half a million people in Gaza are nearing famine. Getting food to northern Gaza has been particularly challenging, since aid groups have had to enter through two entry points along the southern border. Also on Tuesday, a ship headed for Gaza carrying 200 tons of food departed from Cyprus. And on Wednesday, an aid worker died and more than 20 others were injured after Israel struck a food distribution center in Rafah. That’s according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. But the Israeli military said the strike was, quote, “precisely targeted to kill a Hamas commander.” 


Priyanka Aribindi: And just a warning, the next story that we’re going to discuss mentions suicide. The death of Oklahoma teen Nex Benedict has been ruled a suicide. That is according to a report released yesterday by the state’s office of the Chief Medical Examiner. Nex was transgender, and they died on February 8th, one day after getting into a fight in a girl’s bathroom at Owasso High School. Their mother told The Independent that Nex had been repeatedly bullied at school over their gender identity. They said that the bullying got worse not long after Oklahoma Republican Governor Kevin Stitt signed a law forcing public school students to use the bathroom that corresponds to their sex at birth. Nex’s family had yet to comment on the medical examiner’s report as of our recording time at 9:30 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday night. But earlier this month, the Education Department launched an investigation into whether the Owasso school district failed to address the harassment of students. A spokesperson for the school district confirmed the investigation to NBC and said that the district was cooperating, but believed that the investigation was, quote, “without merit.” In a statement about the examiner’s report, the Human Rights Campaign said, quote, “Nex was failed by so many and should still be here today.” We’ll put a link to organizations that give resources to LGBTQ kids who are bullied into our show notes. 


Juanita Tolliver: And finally, let’s end on a problem facing the New Orleans police. Someone is destroying evidence, or actually some things. 


[clip of Anne Kirkpatrick] The rats eating our marijuana. They’re all high. [laughter]


Priyanka Aribindi: She said that like it’s a problem. I don’t know. 


Juanita Tolliver: The tone is what made me giggle. I apologize. This is a serious problem. [laughing] That’s New Orleans Police Superintendent Anne Kirkpatrick talking to the city council on Monday. It was one of the many examples she described her department is dealing with because of deteriorating buildings. She also described a pretty serious infestation of cockroaches. Oh my God. Mold and no functioning restrooms. Ugh.


Priyanka Aribindi: Excuse me. 


Juanita Tolliver: Gosh. 


Priyanka Aribindi: What’s going on here? 


Juanita Tolliver: Wow. Kirkpatrick used all of this as evidence for why the police department’s headquarters should move to a better location downtown. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yet another city where the rats are fully in charge. [laughter] The humans have no [laugh], I’m sorry we need to give up. We need to give up. We need to move I, we’re the rats. We are moving underground. The rats have taken over above. 


Juanita Tolliver: Oh, God. 


Priyanka Aribindi: It’s a paradigm shift. It’s fine. And those are the headlines. 




Priyanka Aribindi: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe. Leave a review. Mask up for Fox babies and tell your friends to listen. 


Juanita Tolliver: And if you’re into reading and not just whether the New York Jets’ schedule will let Aaron Rodgers campaign like me. What a Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at I’m Juanita Tolliver.


Priyanka Aribindi: I’m Priyanka Aribindi. 


[spoken together] And rats, get a better pot supplier. 


Priyanka Aribindi: I don’t know, they went straight to the source for this one. 


Juanita Tolliver: Straight to the source for the weed, straight to the source for this pizza slice in New York. Like they clearly have the plug. 


Priyanka Aribindi: They know what they’re doing. [laughter] [music break]


Juanita Tolliver: What a Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Are associate producers are Raven Yamamoto and Natalie Bettendorf. We had production help today from Michell Eloy, Greg Walters, and Julia Claire. Our showrunner is Leo Duran. Our executive producer is Adriene Hill. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.