Nicholas Cummings, Deputy City Attorney for Evanston, explained at the Reparations Subcommittee meeting on Sept. 25 that in order for the City to make reparations to Black residents  through various housing programs, the City needs to demonstrate that it “was actually complicit” in housing discrimination against Black people in the past.

It was thus necessary for the City to dig up past actions of the City that discriminated against Black people in housing, he said.

In a two-page memo provided to the Reparations Subcommittee, Mr. Cummings made the same point: “The Evanston Reparations Subcommittee endeavored to create programs meant to remedy past discrimination in the City of Evanston. To ensure any program put forth would withstand legal challenge, the Law Department advised the Committee and City staff that concrete evidence of discrimination on the part of the City was necessary.”

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.

On Aug. 28, the Reparations Subcommittee decided to recommend that City Council approve the use of $400,000 in reparations funds for housing assistance programs that would benefit an estimated 16 households.  The $400,000 would be used to help qualified Black residents to purchase homes, to improve their homes, and to pay their mortgages. Click here for an article describing the programs.

City Council is expected to consider the recommendation at a City Council meeting in the next few weeks.

The City of Richmond Case

Mr. Cummings’ memo cites the U.S. Supreme Court case, City of Richmond v. J.A. Croson Co., 488 U.S. 469 (1989). In that case the Court struck down a City of Richmond Plan that required prime contractors to whom the city awarded construction contracts to subcontract at least 30% of the dollar amount of the contract to one or more Minority Business Enterprises (MBE).

The City of Richmond adopted the Plan after a public hearing at which no direct evidence was presented that the city had discriminated on the basis of race in letting contracts or that its prime contractors had discriminated against minority subcontractors, said the Court.  The evidence that was introduced included a statistical study indicating that, although the city’s population was 50% Black, only 0.67% of its prime construction contracts had been awarded to minority businesses between1978 and 1983; figures establishing that a variety of local contractors’ associations had virtually no MBE members; the city council’s conclusion that the Plan was constitutional; and conclusory  statements of Plan proponents indicating that there had been widespread racial discrimination in the local, state, and national construction industries.

None of these “findings,” singly or together, provide the City of Richmond with a “strong basis in evidence for its conclusion that remedial action was necessary,” said the Court. “There is nothing approaching a prima facie case of a constitutional or statutory violation by anyone in the Richmond construction industry.

 “Proper findings in this regard are necessary to define both the scope of the injury and the extent of the remedy necessary to cure its effects.”

Mr. Cummings summed up the holding as  follows: “The Court held that program was unconstitutional because Richmond lacked sufficient evidence to justify the program and that it was not sufficiently tailored to the ill it was intended to fix. Proponents of Richmond’s ordinance relied primarily on generalized assertions of discrimination in the construction industry and lack of diversity in the industry compared to the population of Richmond. None of the evidence provided evinced any discrimination on the part of Richmond in denying minority-owned businesses contracts, although the facts before the Court showed evidence of many of the systemic hurdles minority businesses face when trying to bid for government work. While such evidence would be sufficient for Congress to act on, it is not sufficient for a local governmental entity. The Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution requires ‘some showing of prior discrimination by the governmental unit involved.’”

Mr. Cummings said the housing policy proposed by Evanston’s Reparations Subcommittee differs from the City of Richmond Plan because the Reparation’s proposal is backed by a 76-page report prepared by Dino Robinson, Executive Director of Shorefront Legacy Center, and Jenny Thompson, Director of Education of the Evanston History Center, entitled, “Evanston Policies and Practices Directly Affecting the African American Community, 1900 – 1960 (and Present).”

Mr. Cummings said, the report provides “evidence of steps taken by past Evanston City Councils between 1919 and 1969 when the City passed its anti-discrimination ordinance. Unlike Richmond, Evanston has direct evidence of political and City action in the area of housing that makes at least a prima facie case of discrimination against Black Evanston residents.”

Mr. Robinson and Dr. Thompson’s Report

Mr. Robinson, who said he was also speaking on behalf of Dr. Thompson, said, “Our task was to gather evidence; the evidence already exists. It’s a matter of locating them, and we wanted to create a single document where all this evidence can be found. We also include resources at the end of this document, so that if anybody wants to dig further into the document itself, the resources are there.”

The 76 page report contains chapters addressing redlining; segregation practices; employment; services, public and private; schools; housing and zoning policies; lawsuits; and policing.

“This is a living document and Dr. Thompson and I are continuously working on it,” said Mr. Robinson. “One thing I’d like to highlight on this, which was very significant … deals with home demolition and land clearance. It runs from pages 42 to page 57. And it covers land clearance, residential housing, fair housing, and post war veteran housing. And I think the committee and community we’ll find that very interesting reading.

“Jenny Thompson is also still waiting on zoning documents from Washington University. And that will be incorporated into the document. So as I said, this is a living document, and we will continue to update it and submit revisions going forward.

“Again, both Shorefront and the Evanston History Center take no position in the Reparations project. We were simply assigned a task to gather evidence of previously written, published, ordinances, statements, articles, publications, etc., for our consumption.”

The report is available here, starting at page 8 of the agenda packet.

The Reparations Subcommttee’s next meeting is scheduled for Oct. 23.


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...