Evanston, Illinois Passes Country’s First-Ever Reparations Program for Black Residents

As we reported previously, Evanston, Illinois recently became the first city in the nation to propose a reparations program for its Black residents. And now that proposal has passed and will go into effect later this year.

According to Mark Guarino of The Washington Post, “The nation’s first government reparations program for African Americans was approved Monday night in the Chicago suburb of Evanston, action that advocates say represents a critical step in rectifying wrongs caused by slavery, segregation and housing discrimination and in pushing forward on similar compensation efforts across the country.”

“Right now, the whole world is looking at Evanston, Illinois,” said Ron Daniels, president of the National African American Reparations Commission. “This is a moment like none other that we’ve ever seen, and it’s a good moment.”

Guarino reported that “The Evanston City Council approved the first phase of reparations to acknowledge the harm caused by discriminatory housing policies, practices and inaction going back more than a century. The 8-to-1 vote will make $400,000 available in $25,000 homeownership and improvement grants, as well as in mortgage assistance for Black residents who can show they are direct descendants of individuals who lived in the city between 1919 and 1969.” 

It’s a historic achievement for the small 158-year-old city with a population of approximately 75,000 that’s located just outside of Chicago along the north shore of Lake Michigan. 

ArLuther Lee of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has reported that the initiative, which will cost approximately $10 million in tax dollars over the next decade was spearheaded by 5th Ward Alderman Robin Rue Simmons. Funds for the reparations will come from a new 3% tax on the now-legal sale of recreational marijuana within the city.

The dispersals will be targeted towards housing and are intended to remedy “a lack of affordability, lack of access to living-wage careers here in the city and a lack of sense of place,” said Rue Simmons in an interview with ABC News. “It’s the most appropriate use for that sales tax. In our city, 70% of the marijuana arrests were in the Black community. And we are 16% of the community. All studies show that Blacks and white [people] consume cannabis at the same rate.”

The idea of reparations to atone for the effects of slavery first became popular in the late 1860s but remains largely unfilled to this day. Various lawmakers and Congresspeople have also brought up the idea over the years, but, so far, it has never gained enough traction to face a serious chance of approval on a federal level. The actions of Evanston lawmakers may provide a new path forward showing how reparations could be carried out on a larger scale across the country without direct congressional funding or support.

During the Evanston City Council vote, the lone opposition vote came from Alderwoman Cicely Fleming of the 9th Ward, who felt the proposed housing program was being rushed to vote and also questioned whether payments via housing program was sufficient.

Let me be clear: I am 100% in support of reparations. I come from three legacy Black families in Evanston who have suffered enough. I am one of countless such families across the country. Real reparations are long overdue. But what is before us tonight is a housing plan dressed up as reparations,” Fleming said in a March 22 statement explaining her no vote for the resolution. “As ‘Reparations in Name Only,’ there is no autonomy for the community harmed. Instead of cash payments, which respect the humanity and self-determination of Black people and allow them to decide what’s best for themselves, this housing program is restrictive and only allows limited participation.”


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