The Chicago suburb of Evanston, Illinois became the first city in the United States to pay reparations to its Black residents, after the city council approved legislation Monday night, a move that some hope leads to further pressure for national legislation.
"It doesn't mean every city will do it exactly like Evanston has done, but there's a blueprint there," said Ron Daniels, the National African American Reparations Commission, to CBS MoneyWatch.
In an 8-to-1 vote, the Evanston City Council approved the first phase of reparations to acknowledge the discriminations against the Black community going back more than a century. The taxpayer’s money is primarily going to Black residents who can produce evidence that they are direct descendants of individuals who resided in the city and faced discrimination from 1919 to 1969. The city will make $400,000 available in $25,000 homeownership and grants.
"Right now the whole world is looking at Evanston, Illinois. This is a moment like none other that we’ve ever seen, and it’s a good moment," said Ron Daniels of NAARC.
The City of Evanston plans to fund reparations through taxes on the cannabis industry over the next decade, which will directly go to the new approved $10 million package. During the city council’s debate on the vote, more than 60 people spoke beforehand with some expressing the city take historic steps, while others showed distaste and said the city council needed more time to look at more feasible options.
"It’s a first tangible step," said Alderwoman Robin Rue Simmons, who has been a key advocate on the program. “It is alone not enough. It is not full repair alone in this one initiative. But we all know that the road to repair injustice in the Black community will be a generation of work. .?.?. I’m excited to know more voices will come to the process."
Historian Jennifer Oast, an expert on institutional slavery at Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania, expects that the Evanston program in particular will have a "snowball effect" on proposed federal legislation, the Washington Post reported.
Evanston City leaders decided to address housing after a report last year showed the city restricted where Blacks could live dating back to 1855, the arrival of the city’s first Black resident.
"Over the decades, policies, practices, and patterns of discrimination and segregation took place,” the report said. Together, they “not only impacted the daily lives and well-being of thousands of Evanston residents, but they also had a material effect on occupations, education, wealth, and property."
Alderwoman Cicely Fleming criticized the proposed reparations package and although she supports reparations, she voted 'no,' saying the focus on housing confirms negative stereotypes that the poorest "can’t handle their money" and discriminates against people who may be due reparations but either don’t own a home or don’t plan to purchase one, the Washington Post reports.
"I don’t think it’s true reparations. If we start out with something that is not clearly modeled after what historic reparations are about, we open up a lack of trust," said Fleming, a longtime resident who is Black. "There’s no way I could go to African Americans in Mississippi who have experienced true racial terror and tell their city councils to do the same as what we’re doing with housing. I would be mortified."
Tina Paden, another Evanston resident and critic of the legislation, said "Reparations are supposed to repair harm to the injured parties. So if you’re telling someone what to do with the money, this appears to be a discriminatory practice as well. Now you have discrimination on discrimination."