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This article first appeared on the Evanston Public Library website. Abdel Shakur is a local writer, teacher and advocate for excellent Black teaching.
Q: Can you give us a little history and tell us about how this policy was used to block marginalized residents in the past?
Abdel Shakur: In the early 1930s, the community of Black Evanston was growing in size and political power. Folks were starting businesses, buying homes, educating their children, electing their first council member, and enjoying the beach. All despite White resistance. While Chicago used racial terrorism to enforce beach segregation, Evanston simply renovated a section of the beach, charged a token to pay for it, and made tokens only available to White residents. Black Evanstonians were relegated to the “free beach.” That makes tokens a literal artifact of racism and unjustifiable for anyone concerned with equity.
Q: Recently the City determined that the beaches would be free Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays. The original proposal was for the beaches to be free seven days a week. What does it mean to have the beaches free weekends only?
Shakur: Beaches are not free seven days a week because we have to come to a consensus that the cost, financially and in White discomfort, is worth immediately dismantling systemic racism in our community. To paraphrase Malcolm X, if you stick a knife in my back, “progress” is not pulling it out six inches. Progress is real healing and that’s not something that can take place three days out of the week. The path to healing is free beaches for everyone, all the time.