Editor’s note: This story has updated to delete a reference to a 1921 zoning ordinance.

Steven Rogers was outraged when he learned what happened to a number of Black families who were forced to relocate from northwest Evanston to the Fifth Ward in the late 1920s.

Steven Rogers in front of Second Church of Christ, Scientist at 2715 Hurd Ave. Rogers has purchased the church and its adjacent parking lot. Seven Black families once had homes on the site but were forcibly relocated in the 1920s. Rogers plans to build a memorial. Credit: Les Jacobson

So he decided to do something about it. On Dec. 28 he completed the $1 million acquisition of the property where they lived – consisting today of the parking lot at 2715 Hurd Ave. and adjacent Second Church of Christ, Scientist building, just south of his own home – and plans to build a garden memorial on part of the site.

Rogers first heard about the forced relocation of Black families from a WGN-TV report that aired in March 2021.

Rogers, an entrepreneur, university lecturer and author of the 2021 book A Letter to My White Friends and Colleagues: What You Can Do Right Now to Help the Black Community, said he was outraged and remembers thinking the episode “felt like a crime against humanity.”

In the WGN-TV report, Evanston resident Carlis Sutton said his grandparents were among the people forced to move. Sutton, 80, a retired Evanston school teacher, told WGN that his grandfather built his home on a side street, Bauer Place, but was later forced to move the building and his family to the 2300 block of Foster Street, just east of the North Shore Channel. Bauer Place is now the site of the church parking lot.

“Sometime around 1927, they told people they could have the house, but they couldn’t have the land,” Sutton told WGN.

“Nothing will be enough for the kinds of discrimination my family endured over the years they’ve been in this community,” Sutton said.

An elm tree stands just north of the parking lot of the Second Church of Christ, Scientist on Hurd Avenue across from Willard Elementary School. Carlis Sutton said his grandparents planted the tree before they were forced to move from the neighborhood in the late 1920s. Credit: Richard Cahan

In a recent phone call, Sutton added that his grandfather, Lucius, never expressed bitterness over the forced relocation. “What he did say was, ‘Never trust white people.’ He always said there were only two things Black people should talk to white people about: sports and the weather. Never share anything personal.”

Carlis Sutton at an October 2022 Reparations Committee meeting. Credit: Gina Castro

Sutton said he remains angry about the way his grandparents were treated, adding they received no compensation for the land, “not a dime, not one penny.”

(According to a Bloomberg story, the forced relocation of seven Black families from Bauer Place occurred in May 1929.)

Rogers said watching the WGN report touched off a nerve. “I’m a race man myself. I’m dedicated to uplifting our poor Black community,” he said. “It struck me: This happened right next door. I have to do something.”

Rogers said that after watching the TV report the idea of buying the church parking lot to establish a memorial “percolated in my mind for a while,” but he only moved into high gear after a proposal to convert the building to a private nursery school fell through due to community opposition.

At that point, he said, “I approached the real estate agent and asked if I could buy just the parking lot. The answer was: ‘Not possible.’ Then I told her to let me know if a developer gets interested, so I could negotiate for the parking lot.” But nothing came of that request, which is when he decided to buy the entire 0.75-acre site.

Rogers’ most recent book, Successful Black Entrepreneurs, was published by Wiley Press in February 2022. A successful businessman, he taught entrepreneurial finance at Northwestern University from 1993 to 2012 and was a senior lecturer at his alma mater, Harvard Business School, from 2012 to 2019.

He said he plans to call the garden memorial Bauer Place. As for the church building itself, Rogers said it is zoned R1 and suitable for the construction of four homes. But at present he’d prefer to dedicate it for community use.

“I want to use it to benefit the Black community,” he said, possibly for church meetings and the performances of choirs from Historically Black Colleges and Universities touring the Midwest.

Charles Carrington, chairman of the church board, said the 76-year-old building plus the land and parking lot were first put up for sale about three years ago due to declining attendance. “It became too big for us,” he said of the 235-seat house of worship.

Several proposals fell through for various reasons, including local opposition, Carrington said. He characterized negotiations with Rogers as “harmonious and smooth,” and said he was pleased that Rogers is permitting church members to continue to worship there for at least six months while the church looks for a new, smaller site in Evanston.

Les Jacobson

Les is a longtime Evanstonian and RoundTable writer and editor. He won a Chicago Newspaper Guild best feature story award in 1975 for a story on elderly suicide and most recently four consecutive Northern...

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  1. Important story! I hope Professor Rogers will include some native plants in his garden, and if he would like help planning the landscape, I know a few native gardeners in Evanston who’d love to help out. I grew up in NW Evanston (60’s and 70’s), largely unaware of the systemic racism and all its ugly impacts. In part, I was too young to get it, but stories like this one were not widely known, either. It would be an honor to be involved in righting this egregious wrong all these years later.

  2. This story is incredible!! I’ve heard bits & pieces over the years but this gives the full story. Thank you RoundTable for this story & Thank you to Mr. Rogers for all you are doing to pay tribute to those who were grossly discriminated against. It’s horrible how these families were treated. People deserve to live wherever they choose.

  3. This is such a powerful way of acknowledging the travesty that those families forced to relocate had to endure. Kudos to you Steven Rogers!!

  4. As a resident a few blocks from Willard and the new Bauer Place park, I am more pleased then I can express in writing that Steven Rogers is creatively repurposing this property. I was concerned when I heard a Black church had hopes to buy it but was told by the city there was not enough parking for their needs. I hope we will all express our appreciation to Steven Rogers for his creative and educational project.

  5. This article represents the best of community news: I. Never. Knew.
    Thank you for bringing this information to us all. Diane Teska

  6. Professor Rogers is a man of conviction. If you read his book, “A Letter to My White Friends and Colleagues: What You Can Do Right Now to Help the Black Community,” which I highly recommend, his acquisition of this property and subsequent creation of a memorial garden, is not surprising. Thank you Professor for the constant reminders that there is more we can all to do, particularly white people, to acknowledge past racial harms and repair those harms through positive, wealth creation actions that specifically support the Black community.