The case for reparations in the US: Evanston, Illinois

This article is the first in the series of articles which discuss recent responses to the impact of slavery on the descendants of ex-slaves. 

In accordance with her goal of ‘breaking the racial wealth divide’ between black and white people, Robin Rue Simmons initiated a slavery reparations bill in her small town 13 miles north of Chicago. This bill – once implemented – will be the first government-funded slavery reparations programme to be implemented in the entire world.

43 year old Robin Rue Simmons who is responding to that modern hardships that have derived from slavery

Source: Jeff Marini via The Guardian

The process began in February 2019 with an email to the Equity Commission with the heading, “Because ‘reparations’ makes people uncomfortable”.

An excerpt from Simmons’ email has been inserted below:

Hello Equity Commission,

thank you for the work you are doing. You have the most difficult work of all the commissions because the goal seems impossible … I realize that no 1 policy or proclamation can repair the damage done to Black families in this 400th year of African American resilience. I’d like to pursue policy and actions as radical as the radical policies that got us to this point

 

This email conversation continued for another 5 paragraphs, in which Simmons explained further reasons justifying reasons for her bill. She noted that black people were still in a disadvantaged position (mostly in economic terms) in comparison to the white population in Evanston despite the acceleration of migration of ex-slaves over 100 years ago in 1915. The disadvantages include (but are not limited to) the following: a vast wealth gap, higher arrest rates and a limited ability to purchase a home. Evidence demonstrates that in 2018 there were less black homeowners in Evanston, then there were 30 years ago in the 1980s. Additionally, 60% of the people arrested there are black despite only representing 16% of the population in the town which has a majority white population. Simmons attributes these disadvantages to the economic damage done by Evanston’s history of racial zoning. (Efforts undertaken by banks and real estate firms to segregate the white and black population.) Historian Andrew Wiese wrote, “Evanston’s white real estate brokers apparently developed a practice of informal racial zoning. In effect, they treated a section of west Evanston as open to African Americans, while excluding them from the rest of town.” in an attempt to explain this theory in his 1999 Journal of Social History.

Racial zoning was further implemented by the Evanston city council (in the 20th century) through their efforts in creating zones to separate areas of the city, reserving certain areas for blacks and specific areas for whites. This method of segregation continued to develop and in the 1930s the government introduced a method of grading neighbourhoods known as redlining maps. A redlining map for Evanston has been inserted below. Redlining maps were responsible for allocating the 5th ward (a segregated triangular area) to 95% of the black population. The 5th ward was regarded as the least desirable area and was graded as grade D indicated it was hazardous.

 

A map highlighting the triangular 5th ward reserved for black Americans in Evanston


Source: evanstonroundtable

Map indicating the distribution of the black population in Evanston

Source: evanstonroundtable

 

The diagrams above show the black population living in Evanston were given a minor proportion of land to settle on. Furthermore, the second diagram evidences how black people were confined to one area of the town and only a small percentage lived in other wards.

To this day, the 5th ward in Evanston is still a disadvantaged area. Simmons explains  that there are no public schools in the ward, no grocery stores, no access to the lake and there are limited parks. Additionally, the infrastructure is weak. This is a clear indication that black people living in the 5th ward were disadvantaged due to their ancestors being slaves. Therefore, initiatives such as Robin Rue Simmons’s bill regarding solutions to reparations is vital for black people living in wards such as the 5th ward in Evanston, Illinois.

Currently, her bill has over 150 co-sponsors in Congress which could mean that with continued success, it could be passed in Congress.

 

Sources:

https://www.theguardian.com/news/2020/oct/06/long-fight-for-slavery-reparations-evanston-chicago

https://evanstonroundtable.com/MobileContent/Default/Reports-Analyses/Article/Exhibit-Shows-History-of-Segregation-and-Redlining-in-Evanston/-3/236/16909