Evanston, Illinois to distribute $25K in reparations to eligible Black residents
Author Ta-Nehisi Coates, left, and actor Danny Glover, right, testify about reparations during a hearing before a House subcommittee, Washington, June 19, 2019. Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP.

Eligible Black residents of Evanston, Illinois will soon receive reparations up to $25K as part of a commitment from the city, according to ABC News.

Fifth Ward Alderman Robin Rue Simmons of Evanston, which lies just north of Chicago, spearheaded the charge for the legislation. Simmon said her own experiences growing up Black in Evanston and experiencing the racial wealth gap firsthand, inspired her to fight for ways to close it.

“The streets were wider, the trees were taller, the homes were bigger and brighter,” Simmons recalled, reflecting upon playdates as a youth with white classmates. “As a young child, I recognized that difference.”

Evanston is the first city in the United States to officially establish reparations for Black people. The city committed to pay $10M over the next decade in an attempt to repay Black residents, according to the report. The first phase of this initiative includes eligible Blacks being paid up to $25K to be used specifically towards housing.

Simmons asserts the funds are intended to answer for “a lack of affordability, lack of access to living-wage careers here in the city, and a lack of sense of place.”

Chicago was the city author Ta-Nehisi Coates spotlighted in his The Atlantic Magazine article “The Case for Reparations.” Coates won several prestigious national awards for the article that outlined the long history of redlining and other methods of housing discrimination perpetrated by local, state and federal laws, as well as city reators and bankers. The result: a colossal loss in wealth-earning opportunities for generations of Blacks–a legacy of inequity that continues to feed the racialwealth gap to this day.

In the current Evanston reparations initiative, Black people who have lived in the city through redlining and their descendants are eligible for the payment.

 “I was looking at what we had done, what more we could do, and reparations was the only answer,” Simmons said. “The only legislative response for us to reconcile the damages in the Black community is reparations.”

According to theGrio, local historian Dino Robinson, founder of the Shorefront Legacy Center, supported lawmakers’ efforts to pass the reparations legislation with a 70-plus page report that chronicled discrimination and racism in Evanston dating back to the 1800s.

“We anticipate litigation to tie things up with the premise that ‘You cannot use tax money that’s from the public to benefit a particular group of people,’” Robinson said, referring to opposition to the city’s plan. But, he countered, “The entire Black community historically has paid taxes, but were not guaranteed the same benefits.”

Evanston’s white residents, according to Robinson’s report, make almost double the income and have double the reported net worth of Black Evanstonians, research that added to the efficacy of Black people who have lived in Evanston through redlining and their descendants qualifying for the payment.

According to theGrio President Joe Biden has made plans to act on reparations for African-Americans. Biden’s Senior Advisor, Cedric Richmond, confirmed that the White House plans “to start acting now.”

“We have to start breaking down systemic racism and barriers that have held people of color back, and especially African-Americans who were enslaved,” Richmond explained, according to the report. “We have to do stuff now to improve the plights, status, and future empowerment of Black people all around the country.

“I can’t tell you if, what the time frame on the bill is, but I can tell you this. If you start talking about free college tuition to [historically Black colleges and universities] and you start talking about free community college and all of those things, I think that you are well on your way.”

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee submitted H.R. 40, the Commission to Study and Develop Reparations Proposals for African Americans Act to uncover the lasting impact of slavery in the United States and to provide a monetary payout. The late Congressman John Conyers submitted legislation anually to get the federal government to commit to reparations for Blacks.

The National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (N’COBRA) has been calling for reparations since 1987. Several other activists and and organizations over the years have joined the call, though reparations for Blacks has a muchlonger history than the 1980s.

The first recorded case of reparations for slavery in the United States was awarded to a formerly enslaved woman named Belinda Sutton (Royall) in 1783, in the form of a pension.

Belinda Sutton (Royall)

In 1865, as the Civil War was coming to a close, Gen. William T. Sherman issued Special Field Order 15, which came to be known as “40 acres and a mule,” which involved redistributing a huge tract of Atlantic coastline to Black Americans recently freed from enslavement. President Abraham Lincoln and Congress approved the order resulting in 40,000 freedmen in the South planting and building on land received.

Their reparations, however, were short-lived. For, within months of Lincoln’s assassination, President Andrew Johnson rescinded the order and returned the land to its former owners.

“Today there are more people at the table — more activists, more scholars, more CEOs, more state and local officials, and more Members of Congress,” Simmons stated in a press release. “However, despite this progress and the election of the first American President of African descent, the legacy of slavery lingers heavily in this nation.”

“It’s working its way through Congress,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki, according to Politico. Still, Biden’s administration did not testify during a hearing on Wednesday in a House Judiciary Committee subpanel on the reparations legislation. Yet, Psaki stated, “We’d certainly support a study, but we’ll see what happens through the legislative process.”