In a historic first, the town of Evanston, Illinois, has become the first city in the U.S. to commit to paying the Black citizens who live within its borders reparations for generations of lost wealth, inequality and systemic racism as an ongoing result of slavery in the nation’s past.
The small 158-year-old city with a population of approximately 75,000 is located just outside of Chicago along the north shore of Lake Michigan. ArLuther Lee of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has reported that the city is planning to distribute ”$10 million in tax dollars to the cause over the next decade, with $25,000 payments to eligible residents beginning this spring.”
According to Lee, the policy was spearheaded by 5th Ward Alderman Robin Rue Simmons. Funds for the reparations will come from a new 3% tax on the now legal sale of recreational marijuana within the city.
The dispersals will be targeted towards housing and are intended to remedy “a lack of affordability, lack of access to living wage careers here in the city and a lack of sense of place,” said Rue Simmons in an interview with ABC News. “It’s the most appropriate use for that sales tax. In our city, 70% of the marijuana arrests were in the Black community. And we are 16% of the community. All studies show that Blacks and white [people] consume cannabis at the same rate,” she added.
ABC’s Ashley Brown, Emilie de Sainte Maresville and Allie Yang reported that Rue Simmons partnered with local Black historian Dino Robinson to build the case for reparations.
“Robinson is the founder of the Shorefront Legacy Center in Evanston, an archive dedicated solely to chronicling and celebrating the local Black history that had long gone ignored,” the reporters wrote. “In a 70+ page report, Robinson documented discrimination and racism in Evanston that dated back to the late 1800s.”
“We anticipate litigation to tie things up with the premise that ‘you cannot use tax money that’s from the public to benefit a particular group of people,'” Robinson said while reflecting on the reparation plan. But he then noted that “the entire Black community historically has paid taxes but were not guaranteed the same benefits.”
Dating back decades in the city, he said Black people were relegated to certain parts of the city, denied loans and housing and “choked off from wealth opportunities that were generally afforded to white people.”
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that today, Black people living in Evanston make less than half their white counterparts and live in homes that are worth 50% less than their white neighbors.
And that fact isn’t unique to Evanston either. The Federal Reserve 2019 Survey of Consumer Finances has reported that Black Americans in general possess less than 15% of the wealth of white Americans.
The idea of reparations to atone for the effects of slavery first became popular in the late 1860s but remains largely unfilled to this day. Various lawmakers and Congresspeople have also brought up the idea over the years but so far, it has never gained enough traction to face a serious chance of approval on a federal level. The actions of Evanston lawmakers may provide a new path forward showing how reparations could be carried out on a larger scale across the country without direct congressional funding or support.