North of Chicago is a small and quiet town that is smack dab in the middle of a unique and tentative procedure.
Evanston, Illinois is the place. This university town, roughly 78,000 people, comprises solid brick building downtown with rainbow flags and “Black Lives Matter” placards dot in many suburban lawns. It’s an affluent neighborhood. It’s about two-thirds white, nearly a fifth Black, and the town has a sizeable Asian and Hispanic communities.
Its politics are liberal. In the 2020 election, former President Donald Trump received just tenth of the vote.
But Evanston is dealing with a legacy of racial inequality stemming from slavery and segregation like many other towns around the nation, according to BBC News.
Some states like California are discussing reparations to make amends for slavery. But Evanston’s approach is focusing on discrimination against Black citizens pertaining to buying a home.
The city started paying money to Black residents who faced obstacles when purchasing the home they wanted due to mid-20th Century policies – the first U.S. city to do so.
The notion that America owes Black residents, with some being slaves and others suffering from the repercussions of racism, existed for centuries.
What are reparations?
A slave from Ghana named Belinda Royall was granted a pension from a Massachusetts court in the 18th century. A few historians believe this was the first form of slavery reparations in US history.
A Civil War-era Army order appropriated by the government a huge swath of land in South Carolina as well as Georgia from white owners to distribute to freed slaves. The size of the parcels turned into the slogan “40 acres and a mule,” which is a byword for promised slavery reparations.
But since the Civil War, no large-scale reparations have ever been attempted.
Reparations activist and former Evanston council member, Rue Simmons, said Evanston’s plan was shaped by town hall meetings as well as consultations with local residents.
But it isn’t cash payments and it doesn’t have a direct link to slavery.
Rather, the project is centered on a specific subset of the Black community. To be worthy of choice, adult residents needed to live in Evanston before 1969 when housing discrimination in several forms was at its height. Unfortunately, the system prevented most African-American families from building up generational wealth.
Evanston’s reparations are in the form of grants of $25,000, which can only be used for housing repairs, to pay down a mortgage, or as a down payment on a house.
Because of these stipulations, the pool of eligible residents is small with just over 120 who have already applied in the first round.
The residents are in their 70s. And several applicants have died.
The process has taken too long.
The law was passed in 2019. But it was just recently that the first 16 residents were chosen randomly to get the first payouts.
Louis Weathers and his wife
Resident Louis Weathers, 87, was one of the first 16 chosen, though the situation seemed dire at first. Having moved from a house to an apartment because of the rigors of keeping up with a house, Weathers decided to give the reparation to his son, which is one of the allowable uses of the money.
“It serves a good purpose,” Weathers said. “If they just handed out cash, to me that’s just throwing away money. People wouldn’t use it the right way.”