Evanston, Illinois, a city just north of Chicago, is the first in America to fund reparations for its Black residents. To address the city’s history of racial segregation, redlining, and other discriminatory practices, it is planning to distribute $10 million over the next few years to Black families to use on housing.
The legislation was first passed in 2019 and was championed by 5th Ward Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, who is a native of Evanston and witnessed the effects of racism firsthand.
While visiting a white friend’s neighborhood, she took note of how “the streets were wider. The trees were taller. The homes were bigger and brighter. As a young child, I recognized that difference.”
Simmons saId “[i]t was obvious that it was the barrier of race that kept [my family] from that.”
Through a thorough investigation, and with the help of local historian Dino Robinson, Simmons was able to track out the specific policies put in place, decisions made at the city, state, and federal levels that led to the creation of the city’s predominantly Black 5th Ward. The area came about after redlining, and deliberate racism of white residents who were concerned about having Black areas throughout the city.
The result was a triangle-shaped area with smaller house lots, bordered by a sewage canal and cut off from public transportation to the city’s downtown area. Simmons’ and Robinson’s research led to a 70-page report detailing a direct timeline of the city’s discriminatory planning dating back to the late 1800s.
Though Simmons hadn’t gone into public service planning to spearhead reparations efforts, she acknowledges the funds as “[t]he only legislative response for us to reconcile the damages in the Black community.”
Over the next ten years, beginning this year, Black residents who qualify will receive payments of up to $25,000 to go towards housing. The payments are a first for any American city where redlining, racist real estate practices, environmental racism, and other barriers created areas that were institutionally cut out of resources and left physically deteriorated areas for Black families to live.
To fund this effort, the city is using a three percent sales take on newly-legal recreational marijuana sales. Simmons says housing reparations is “the most appropriate use for that sales tax,” given the disproportionality of marijuana arrests made in Black community.
Evanston’s use of marijuana sales tax and passage of a reparations bill comes as House Resolution 40 makes its way through Congress. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, would be a national step towards repaying African Americans for our contributions to the wealth of the United States.
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