SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — Jonathan Burgess, a local entrepreneur and Sacramento City fire battalion chief, testified Thursday in front of the state’s reparation task force to discuss his family’s history in the gold rush town of Coloma.
“Thanks to the Department of Justice, I was informed, that yes, laws were actually passed in legislation to allow the attorney general and legislators to condemn property and not pay families,” Burgess said.
Burgess said his family is one of them. According to Burgess, the state wrongfully acquired the land of his great-grandfather, Rufus M. Burgess.
The land, which was at least 88 acres, had been passed down to Rufus M. Burgess by his father, also named Rufus. Burgess explains his great-great-grandfather had come to California in 1849 as a slave.
“(They) were threatened to be prosecuted by the same state that’s supposed to be free, in the event that they didn’t sell their land,” Burgess said.
Burgess said he has worked with state historians for the past four years, gathering data on the family’s roots in Coloma.
“They make little to no mention of the pioneer Burgess family, when so much was established,” Burgess said.
Thursday’s hearing was decades in the making from the first time his mother told him about the family’s history, Burgess said. They said it’s a very big step in what is sure to be many more meetings to come.
“It’s really an honor, to hear from you, as a true native son of California, what an ideal reparations package would look like,” said Kamilah Moore, with the reparations task force.
“Those properties should be returned to actual owners and leases enacted for 200 years, and they pay all the back pay with restitution,” Burgess said. “That would be fine for the Burgess Family and any other family that’s proven whose land was wrongfully taken through legislative practices, that discriminated against descendants of slaves in California.”
The virtual event was the third meeting since the nine-member task force first convened in June. It’s the first-in-the-nation effort by a state government to take an expansive look at the institution of slavery and its present-day effects on the lives of Black Americans.