Ramona Burton is slated to receive a $25,000 reparations grant. Her number was one of the first 16 selected in a ping-pong ball drawing last week that ranked all 122 of the “ancestor” applicants. (Family photo by Patricia Render)

Ramona Burton, 72, first learned about the local reparations effort when Danny Glover visited her home church, First Church of God, back in December 2019.

“But I never thought that I would ever be picked. Especially in the first 16,” Burton said.

On Jan. 13, the Evanston Reparations Committee met at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center to pull numbers that would identify the first recipients of the $25,000 Restorative Housing grants – and Burton’s number, 872113295, was one of the first 16 drawn, making her eligible to receive funds.

When Burton’s number was called, she was watching the selection process remotely, but her audio wasn’t working, so when they pulled and read a number she didn’t know whose they were calling. Luckily Delois Robinson, a former relative through marriage, was there and called Burton with the good news. 

Burton’s closest friends and family have been excited for her. She said she has a 52-year-old son living in an Atlanta suburb who was happy to hear about the grant too: “My son said, ‘Oh, I’m glad to see the white man’s doing something for us.’”

Ramona Burton’s husband, Edward, and their son, Brandon, in a photo taken at Brandon’s graduation from University of Illinois-Champaign. Edward Burton died in 1993. (Family photo)

‘Ancestor’ claims given priority

Evanston’s Local Reparations Restorative Housing Program is the first initiative in the city’s $10 million commitment “to eradicating the effects of systemically racist past practices from City Government and all City-affiliated organizations.” The first $400,000 of the reparations program is slated for housing.

Applicants deemed eligible for the program and selected to participate may receive up to $25,000 in funds to purchase a home, remodel a home or pay down a mortgage. The home must be in Evanston and must be the applicant’s primary residence. The $400,000 figure is enough to fund 16 grants of $25,000.

To participate, Black Evanstonians must fit one of three categories: 

  • Residents who lived in the city between 1919 and 1969, referred to as “ancestors.” 
  • Direct descendants of a Black resident from 1919 to 1969.
  • Residents who submitted evidence they suffered housing discrimination due to the city’s policies or practices after 1969.

There were more than 600 applicants in total to the Restorative Housing Program, and 122 of those were ancestors. The Reparations Committee decided to prioritize that group for the first 16 grants. 

Burton’s family history

Burton was born in 1949, the youngest of six children to Ethel Elizabeth Dixon Champion and Lewis Bernis Champion. Both her parents were born in the South – her mother was from Charlotte, North Carolina, her father from Sumter, South Carolina.

Ethel Elizabeth Dixon Champion (Family photo)

Ethel Champion moved to Evanston around 1928, studied at Northwestern to be a nursery school teacher and then married Burton’s father in 1939.

“And that’s about all I know,” Burton said, “I don’t know when my father migrated to Evanston.”

Burton said she was born at Stroger Hospital of Cook County (then called Cook County Hospital) instead of Evanston Hospital because, notoriously, “Evanston hospital was not allowing black babies to be born there.”

Lewis Bernis Champion (Family photo)

She grew up in a house in the 1600 block of Dodge Avenue, which her father purchased using a down payment lent to him by one of his employers, Oscar Mayer. His other two jobs were being a stock clerk at A&P and janitor at the Evanston Theater, she said.

Her mother worked as a nursery school teacher at Learning Bridge back when it was called the Child Care Center of Evanston, and located in the basement of First Church of God.

The house her dad purchased was a two-flat. Her uncle and his wife lived on the second floor while the Champions lived on the first floor. 

Growing up in Evanston

Burton says not being born in Evanston because of hospital racism was the only “real” discrimination she could remember. By the time she went through the school system – Dewey Elementary School, Nichols Middle School and Evanston Township High School – classes were already integrated. She had white and Black friends, she said. 

“I’m sure there was some [discrimination] but I don’t remember anything. There was nothing worthy that stayed with me,” she said.

Burton said that one main difference between today and the ’60s is that back then, “everybody looked out for everybody.” She said she was raised in church and grew up best friends with Katy Walker. Burton said that about half of the families that were here when she was growing up are still here.

“And that’s about it. A normal childhood, strict parents.” She moved out of her Dodge home when she married her husband, Edward A. Burton, in 1967. Her mother died in 1970 and her father in 1983.

Burton took a few community college classes after high school, and then worked in insurance for most of her life. Her favorite job was at the Educational Testing Service, known for the SAT, GRE and other standardized college tests. Her most recent job before retirement was at a collection agency in Skokie. 

Plans for reparations money

Burton plans to use her reparation funds toward her home in the 500 block of Asbury, where she has been living for 46 years. Burton and her husband purchased it when she was 27 and her son was 6. It wasn’t difficult to buy the house, she said, because her husband worked “a real good job” as supervisor at the Glenview Post Office. Edward Burton died in November 1993.

Ramona Burton has lived in her Evanston home for 46 years and plans to use her reparations grant to upgrade it. (Ramona Burton photo)

Burton has a detailed wish list for how to spend the $25,000 grant.

“I want to get a new roof. I want to get new windows all the way around. And a new back fence in my backyard because the fence that is up belongs to my neighbors that live around the corner, and it’s getting pretty raggedy,” she said. “If there’s any money left, I’d like to get central air conditioning. I have a window unit that cools my whole house. But I would replace that with central air if there’s enough money left.”

She had no intention to get these improvements until the Restorative Housing program, because she couldn’t afford it otherwise, she said. One of her son’s good friends is a real estate agent and said he’d offer his help with contractors. She’s going to reach out to him, but wants “the money in hand” before she does that.

Burton only has two siblings still living, a brother in Westchester, Illinois and a sister living in a suburb of Las Vegas. They left Evanston 30 and 50 years ago, respectively. Ramona is alone in Evanston, and never planned to leave.

“I enjoy living here,” she said. “My son tried to get me to relocate to Atlanta when my husband passed, but I didn’t bite.”

Is it true reparations?

Nowadays, Ramona spends her retirement listening to R&B, going to church and watching some of her favorite TV shows. These programs include “Married at First Sight,” “All American” with Taye Diggs and game shows like “The Price is Right,” “Let’s Make a Deal,” “Wheel of Fortune” and “Family Feud.” 

“Me and my family applied for ‘Family Feud’ about three or four times,” she said, “but we never were picked.” 

In terms of being picked for this $25,000 housing grant, she’s still waiting for city officials to reach out about the next steps. She tried calling the city to speak to someone, but was sent to voice mail.

When the RoundTable asked Burton if she believes this is “true” reparations, she said she doesn’t think so.

“I wouldn’t think of it as being true until all Black people receive something. … All Black people should be rewarded. Not just a few, I don’t think that’s enough,” Burton said. “I mean, you can’t repay all the damage that was done to us and how it messed that psyche up.”

Debbie-Marie Brown

Debbie-Marie Brown is a reporter and Racial Justice Fellow at the Evanston RoundTable. They cover the local reparations initiative, Black life in Evanston, and the 5th ward. Contact Debbie-Marie at dmb@evanstonroundtable.com...

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  1. This is bizarre. We have heard from this Dino Robinson “study” that the city promoted housing discrimination based on race during the period of 1919-1969 and that reparations are apparently needed to address that problem.

    Yet, in the case of someone who has now been awarded $25,000 we learn that her ancestors had no problem buying a house and getting financing and that she and her husband had no problem buying a house 47 years ago.

    The only discrimination she reports is having been born in Stroger Hospital instead of Evanston Hospital.

    That, of course, is appalling. But Evanston Hospital has never been run by the city. If compensation needs to be given for this discrimination, it should come from the Northshore University Health System, current owners of Evanston Hospital.