This Saturday, Feb. 25, marks 18 years of celebrating National Reparations Awareness Day.

The day of remembrance hasn’t been approved and introduced by any legislature, so it’s not an officially recognized holiday. But the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (N’COBRA) has celebrated the holiday since the early 1990s.

Rue Simmons, left, stands next to Jackson Lee and panelists of the Reparations Town Hall. Rue Simmons, who spearheaded Evanston’s effort to become the first U.S. city to offer reparations, is now executive director of FirstRepair, which promotes reparations efforts nationally. Credit: Richard Cahan

This year, Evanston, will figure prominently in local plans. Evanston is the first city in the country to give tax-funded reparations to Black residents who were harmed by the city’s longstanding discriminatory housing practices.

The first study to document Evanston residents’ attitudes toward the city’s reparations program is in full swing. Residents 18 years or older can participate in the online survey.

The survey is a collaboration between the city, Northwestern University Professor Alvin Tillery Jr. and the nonpartisan and objective research organization NORC (National Opinion Research Center) at the University of Chicago.

“Evanston is very much in the lead,” said Ron Daniels, the convener of National African American Reparations Commission, in an interview in December before the Second Annual National Symposium for State and Local Reparations Leaders. “Evanston is seen as an example of reparations being possible for not only the United States but around the world.” 

As a result, the city is home to the Annual National Symposium for State and Local Reparations Leaders. Representatives from cities all over the U.S. come to Evanston to learn strategies for gathering support and funding.

(From left) Imama Dykes, Wilma Dykes, Robin Rue Simmons and Mark Dykes pose at the reception of The Big Payback screening last year. Credit: Gina Castro

U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) came to Evanston to demand President Joe Biden implement H.R. 40 through executive order. H.R. 40 would create the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans at the national level.

“I want for once an acceptance of the history, of the journey that African Americans have taken – to be an accepted reality in America,” Jackson Lee said Dec. 2. “Not out of anger, but out of how do we come together to resolute what happened.”

The local events to celebrate National Reparations Awareness Day are also tied to Evanston.

  • Conrad Worrill Community Reparations Commission and N’COBRA Chicago Chapter are co-hosting a screening of The Big Payback on Feb. 25 at Cinema Chatham, 210 W. 87th St. in Chicago. Ticket sales will assist the commission’s efforts toward getting elected officials to support local reparations.
  • Evanston Pride and Unity on the North Shore are co-hosting a lunch, screening and discussion of The Big Payback starting at 11 a.m. Feb. 26 at Unity on the North Shore Church, 3434 Central St. in Evanston.

The Big Payback is a documentary following former Fifth Ward City Council Member Robin Rue Simmons’ journey toward passing the nation’s first form of reparations for Black residents.

“This documentary is a tool that is already being used to have really productive conversations,” Rue Simmons said at the Chicago Film Festival debut of The Big Payback on Oct. 22, 2022. “So thank you for investing in us.”

Background on the day

Here are a few more things to understand about this day and the reparations movement.

While the holiday started in the 1990s, it was in 2005 that N’COBRA pushed it to the national stage. The organization urged its chapters to use National Reparations Awareness Day to collectively educate the public on the 1921 Tulsa race massacre in an effort to fight for reparations for survivors and their descendants.

The story, while horrific, was unknown as it was actively covered up. A violent white mob attacked the then-prosperous Greenwood District in Tulsa, also known as “Black Wall Street,” leaving 35 city blocks in ruins, 1,200 homes destroyed and an estimated 300 Black people killed.

The Black Tulsa community, including survivors and descendants of those massacred, and representatives from N’COBRA rallied outside the doors of Tulsa City Hall on Feb. 24, 2005. Leaders from both N’COBRA and the Tulsa Race Riot Commission presented a case for reparations to the city council and over dinner with survivors, they announced plans to take the case to the Supreme Court.

More than a century after the massacre, no one has been prosecuted and no officials – neither city, county, state nor federal governments – have paid for the massive damages.

For more about Evanston, read these stories:

Gina Castro

Gina Castro is a Racial Justice fellow for the RoundTable. She recently earned a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism where she studied investigative reporting....

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