Proposed law would require state to study reparations, issue formal apology for slavery

The bill would also require Minnesota to apologize "for the systemic racism in the state."

The chief author of the bill is Rep. Cedrick Frazier, a Democrat from New Hope. (Shutterstock/Minnesota House)

Democratic lawmakers introduced legislation this week to establish an advisory council that would examine a possible reparations program. Introduced in the last days of the legislative session, HF 5456 would also require the State of Minnesota to “issue an apology for the past occurrence of chattel slavery and notable slave owners in Minnesota.”

Known as the “Minnesota Migration Act,” HF 5456 first makes several historical declarations. Those statements include:

  • “Slave owners invested heavily in the territory that is now known as the state of Minnesota and after slavery ended in the United States, the slave owners were compensated for the loss of their slaves. Those persons who were held in bondage were never compensated for their labor, despite the promise of ’40 acres and a mule;'”
  • “Although slavery was illegal in Minnesota, Dred Scott and Harriet Scott were held in  military bondage at Fort Snelling, along with other African Americans who were used for enslaved labor by United States Army agents. This was in violation of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 and the Missouri Compromise of 1820;”
  • “In the aftermath of slavery, African American citizens of this country continued to face brutal discrimination as evidenced by Jim Crow laws, such as forced segregation, mass atrocities in Tulsa and Rosewood, the lynching period in history, and, to this day, mass incarceration;”
  • “In Minnesota, systemic discrimination was perpetrated through redlining and racial covenants; diminished access to housing; environmental injustice; and removal of St. Paul’s Rondo neighborhood, which was the center of American descendants of chattel slavery business, residential, spiritual, and cultural life, for the construction of I-94 and other interstate systems that harmed Black communities in Minnesota.”

In turn, the Minnesota Migration Act requires the state to issue a formal apology. Specifically, HF 5456 requires that the State of Minnesota “must issue an apology for the past occurrence of chattel slavery and notable slave owners in Minnesota.”

While slavery did occur in both the Northwest Territory and the Minnesota Territory for a time, a prohibition on slavery has existed in the State of Minnesota since the state was formally established and admitted to the Union in 1858.

Delegates who drafted Minnesota’s constitution in 1857 created two versions of the constitution. Both constitutions were signed by delegates, and both contained the slavery prohibition in Article I, Section 2. According to the Minnesota Historical Society, “no substantive differences in meaning or interpretation are present” in the two constitutions.

In 1974, Minnesota’s constitution was amended and reorganized into a single, streamlined document. The language regarding slavery was edited in the 1974 update, but its effect largely remained the same, stating: “There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the State otherwise than as punishment for a crime of which the party has been convicted.”

In 1974, Minnesota’s constitution was amended and reorganized into a single, streamlined document.

Among other things, the apology issued by the state would be:

  • “for holding Dred and Harriet Scott in military slavery at Fort Snelling;”
  • “to the Rondo neighborhood and other Black communities for constructing the I-94 freeway and other highways in Black communities in Minnesota;”
  • “to the families of George Floyd, Philando Castile, Hardel Sherrell, and Jamar Clark. The state must implement remedies to reform law enforcement in the state;”
  • “for the systemic racism in the state and the impact slavery has had on descendants of chattel slavery in this state. The state must commit to ending systemic racism in the state that prevents upward mobility of Minnesota’s Black residents.”

In addition, the Minnesota Migration Act would establish an advisory council to “develop criteria to determine how to compensate persons and address systems harmed by these anti-Black practices.”

In short, the advisory council would lay the groundwork for a potential reparations program. The language of HF 5456 says the advisory council would “determine what form of compensation should be awarded, through what instrumentalities, and who should be eligible for the compensation.”

The Minnesota legislative session is set to end on May 20. Given that there is currently no Senate version of the bill, and HF 5456 was only introduced days ago, the Minnesota Migration Act will almost certainly not become law this session.

However, the sheer number of Democratic co-authors on the bill indicates that the legislation is a significant priority for left-wing lawmakers in St. Paul and could receive serious consideration at a later date.


Luke Sprinkel

Luke Sprinkel previously worked as a Legislative Assistant at the Minnesota House of Representatives. He grew up as a Missionary Kid (MK) living in England, Thailand, Tanzania, and the Middle East. Luke graduated from Regent University in 2018.