Righting Past Wrongs For A More Just Future
The actions of the City caused Section 14 survivors and their descendants to not only suffer substantial economic loss and loss of generational wealth, but also caused severe emotional race-based trauma. Many survivors report experiencing symptoms similar to those associated with PTSD including feelings of anxiety, depression, isolation and worthlessness. Many fell prey to substance abuse or experienced serious health issues ranging from heart attacks to strokes.
Areva Martin and noted economist Dr. Julianne Malveaux have conducted a preliminary harm assessment and found that the economic damages alone from this racially-charged demolition range from $400 million to $2 billion.
No amount of money will adequately compensate the victims who were forced to endure decades of racist restrictive housing covenants and the horrors of the burning of their homes and belongings. But—like victims of racial atrocities across the country—the survivors of Section 14, their advocates and attorneys are working to share their stories, right the injustices of the past, and do what’s possible to compel the City of Palm Springs to make them whole.
The City of Palm Springs issued a formal apology for the evictions and destruction of Section 14, and City Council staff met with survivors to discuss a range of possibilities for resitutution/reparations programs. More than a year later, the city has taken no further action. Award-winning civil rights attorney Areva Martin and her firm, Martin and Martin, is helping the survivors of Section 14 to negotiate a resolution with the city.
History of Section 14 and Palm Springs
In the early 1900s, the City of Palm Springs enacted housing policies that prohibited racial minorities from renting or buying homes in parts of the city. These racially restrictive covenants prevented African Americans from living in communities near its predominantly white residents and led them to become concentrated in an area of town known as Section 14.
A Bourgeoning Mini-Metropolis
Section 14—a one-square-mile plot of land just east of downtown held by the Aqua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians—became a thriving community of homes, apartments, mobile homes, restaurants, churches and other cultural sites. At its peak, its estimated there were at over 1,000 structures and several thousand residents living there. This predominantly African American, working-class community was also home to immigrants from Mexico and Latin American countries and a spattering of other minorities.
Section 14 In Photographs
“It’s our legacy. It’s our life,” she said. “How we contributed, what work we did. That’s history. We don’t want our history to be erased.”
“We were treated like animals and literally disregarded as human beings,” he said. “And to relive, in my mind, coming home from school to see neighbors’ homes being burned and bulldozed to the ground … I mean, this was really a terrible and horrifying memory that’s indelibly etched in my mind.”
“An apology is just symbolic, I want to see reparations too. We lost generational wealth and not just from our residential homes but from our institutions like the First Baptist Church, which was first located on Section 14 and then rebuilt by the community.”