By 1940, census data showed that 84% of black households in Evanston lived in the triangular area that is shaded light red in the map below. This area was highly segregated – 95% black. Beyond these bounds, black families lived on Garnett Place (then called Ayars) and in a few pockets of older homes purchased before 1900.

 At the Reparations Subcommittee meeting held by Zoom on June 12, members of the subcommittee commented generally on reparations and on some perceptions in the community about how the City’s Reparations Fund might be used. Former Alderman and current Cook County Circuit Judge Lionel Jean-Baptiste presented a proposal on how to allocate funds from the Reparations Fund in the future.

Last November, City Council decided to deposit into a Reparations Fund up to $10 million in City tax revenues collected from the sale of recreational marijuana.  Council also created the Reparations Subcommittee and asked the committee to consider the viability of two recommendations: 1) housing assistance and relief initiatives for black residents in Evanston and; 2) various economic development programs and opportunities for black residents and entrepreneurs in Evanston.

Three aldermen serve on the subcommittee: Robin Rue Simmons (5th Ward); Peter Braithwaite (2nd Ward); and Ann Rainey (8th Ward).

What are Reparations?

“The unfortunate current conditions of our nation right now as it relates to the trauma and pain of racial injustice has highlighted reparations again,” said Ald. Simmons, Chair of the subcommittee. “It is so much more than any single check or program. It is necessary that we do this work together and that the injured community in our case – the  historically redlined community was the Fifth Ward – that they weigh in on the work and the remedy, that the entire community own it and own it as a community goal and not just a black community goal.”

Ald. Simmons referred to an article, “Laying the Foundation for Local Reparations” prepared by Kamm Howard, of the National African American Reparations Commission. Mr. Howard says, “Under international law, reparations must ‘wipe out all consequences’ of the crime or harm. To accomplish that, he says, the injuring party must engage in “full reparations.”

He says that full reparations has five basic components: 1) Cessation, Assurances and Guarantees of Non-Repetition; 2) Restitution and Repatriation; 3) Compensation; 4) Satisfaction; and 5) Rehabilitation.

“When local initiatives of redress are being offered,” Mr. Howard says, “they should first be categorized under these five components, understanding fully that not all five components will be addressed at the local levels, nor to the degree that will completely remedy the injury.”

Ald. Simmons said the first step is to “cease bad policy actions and cultures that have led us to this point in need of repair.

“We must continue doing the diversity inclusion work, all the work that the nonprofit community is doing, the work being done by the City, but we have to cease any of the policy that has led us to a state of discrimination and oppression and disparities that we see toward the black community.

“That’s what we do on City Council. We are thinking about how do we improve our policy, our ordinances. How do we manage our budget so we can reverse some of our unfortunate practices and make Evanston livable for everyone?

“So as opportunities come up to make changes, we’ll do that in parallel with doing the reparations work. The City Council business must continue and the reparations work is a new goal that is on top of this.”

Ald. Simmons said, “A lot of the discrimination is embedded in our zoning and largely the housing discrimination is embedded in zoning and the historic redlining.”

She said the first priority the subcommittee was focusing on is housing.

She then addressed some perceptions or questions that were being raised in the community.

Ald. Simmons said one thing that continually comes up is a question whether every black resident will get a check. She said, “There is no intention to take $10 million divided by 12,000 black people and give everyone a check. That is definitely not the intention. The intention is to have a targeted policy that can measurably impact and repair damages done in the black community by policy and actions that we have specifically in Evanston.”

She added that the reparations made using the Reparations Fund created by City Council was a local initiative, distinct from proposals made at the federal level. “This is something completely separate and in addition to HR 40,” she said.

She added that there was no plan to provide money to not-for profit organizations in the City. “The goal is that we together can decide on a remedy direct and collective for the black community.”

She added she has heard talk about excluding black people who have a Caribbean heritage from reparations in Evanston. She said, “Those families have had the same negative impact that African Americans have had. There’s no intention of excluding any black person from our programming based specifically on where there ancestry has come from. We all have come from the continent of Africa. We all have ancestors that were kidnapped and enslaved… We’re not going to be differentiating between black people in Evanston.”

Ald. Braithwaite agreed that black people will not be differentiated based on heritage. “We are all one.”

Ald. Simmons said the subcommittee has initially focused on housing because of the “exodus” of the black community from Evanston, because of the lack of affordable housing in Evanston, because housing creates generational wealth, and because there is a limited housing stock.

“That is the initial remedy policy that we’re looking at pursuing,” Ald. Simmons said.

She said there were many other recommendations submitted by residents, and that the subcommittee is fully aware of the community’s input. She said the input is “informing how we can better serve the black community and ow we can improve policy generally.”

The Proposal by Judge Jean-Baptiste

Judge Jean-Baptiste outlined a proposal on how to address reparations in the next 10 years, and beyond.

 He noted that the City has made a commitment to fund reparations for the next 10 years. He added, “We would expect that his would go on even beyond that time. … To get the work done we need to have some predictable process, and we need to harness the assistance of so many of you that are on the [zoom meeting] call to get your input on ideas on how to remedy the harm that has been caused over such a long period of time due to discrimination.

”That’s why I have put forward a proposal to Aldermen Simmons, Braithwaite and Rainey, where there would be periods from time to time for funding and preceding the actual funding there would be an open process for individuals or groups to submit specific applications that meet the criteria.

He said, “The applications, as I understand it, would look at the area of housing, the area of economic development, and there’s a broad area of wellness that has been discussed which includes education, mental health and other components in that particular category.”

He proposed that the applications be considered by a Reparations Stakeholder Authority that would discuss the applications in a public way, and then recommend that City Council approve certain applications. He envisioned that the committee would consist of representatives from the black churches and wards that have larger percentages of African Americans, and people with knowledge of housing, education, and economic development. It would be a revolving committee.

He said the application process would not be intended to benefit specific individuals, but to submit ideas and proposals for reparations.

He said this process “could remedy past wrongs, compensate, remediate, lead to cessation of the harm, reach a restitution outcome, to rehabilitate, and do all of that.”

He said the process would be a similar to the process used to approve Community Development Block Grants.

Ald. Simmons said people in the community had already provided input and “we have already prioritized the work based on that input.” She said she wanted to stick with their prioritizations.

Ald.  Braithwaite said, “I see the two traveling at the same time.”

Ald. Rainey said once the subcommittee is in a position to allocate funds, “then we need a structure.”

Ald. Simmons, said the subcommittee would be considering a proposal to provide reparations in the area of housing at its next meeting. “That’s our goal,” she said. “We are committed to that. We’re not going to pause doing our work and working out our remedy and how we’re going to spend the money.

“For us, Ald. Rainey, Ald. Braithwaite and myself, it’s not going to stop us from hearing from you and moving forward what we do with the money,” said Ald. Simmons.

“In fact, I think we need more input,” said Ald. Rainey. “I don’t feel that we’ve had enough.”

“Yeah,” said Ald. Braithwaite. “I don’t see it, and I want to be clear in how I say it because this is not what you’re saying Ald. Simmons.  … I don’t think it’s a ‘this or that.’ It’s what we’re doing and what he’s proposing … moving it forward.”

 The Reparations Subcommittee is scheduled to consider a revised draft housing proposal at its next meeting, scheduled for June 19 at 9:15 a.m.

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...