Gavin Newsom, governor of California, on Wednesday signed a bill which would find a task force to look into the matter. The task force must hold its first meeting by June 2021.
Newsom said the discussion was essential, and 'long overdue'.
'Advancing this cause where it's not just a question on a questionnaire for a candidate running for office but actually taking shape here, that's a meaningful moment,' he said before signing the bill.
'This conversation is so long overdue.'
Assembly Bill 3121 commands the formation of a nine-person panel, appointed by the governor and legislative leaders.
The task force will conduct a thorough scrutiny of slavery in California and the United States, and explore the lasting consequences of discrimination against freed slaves and their descendants.
The members are believed to look at how slavery has promoted private and public institutions, and benefitted to the problems facing modern America - lasting inequalities related to wealth, education, employment, health and incarceration.
The law does not explore how amends should be paid, or order how the state should determine who would qualify for compensation. Those questions remain up to the task force to study and recommend.
In order for the task force's recommendations to be acted upon, the Legislature would need to pass another bill to approve reparation payments.
Four million African people and their descendants were enslaved in the United States from 1619 to 1865, the bill states, and the preparation was constitutionally approved for more than 75 years.
Slavery was eradicated by the 13th Amendment in 1865.
'California has come to terms with many of its issues, but it has yet to come to terms with its role in slavery,' said Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, a Democrat who voted in the support of the bill.
'We're talking about really addressing the issues of justice and fairness in this country that we have to address.'
Globally, there are precedents.
In response to protests over racial inequality, the top United Nations official for human rights called on countries to make amends for racist violence through reparations.
'There's no amount of money that can be paid, really, to fully repair,' said Arif Ali, a lawyer who was part of a U.N. team on compensation for victims of Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
Ali said that under international law, the United States was indebted to pay - it is now just a matter of working out how.
'The experience of other countries is a reference point,' he said. 'Where there's a will, there's a way.'