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Evanston City Council approved the creation of a reparations program on March 22, 2021. Photo: Kamil Krzaczynski/Getty Images

Evanston, Illinois will be the first U.S. city to give reparations to its Black residents

Evanston’s City Council approved the creation of a program on March 22, and joined the rising national wave of discussion on the issue.

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On Monday, March 22, Evanston, Illinois made reparations available to its Black residents in an effort to atone for past discrimination as well as the lingering effects of slavery.

This offering has become somewhat of a trend among other cities and organizations.

In July, Asheville, North Carolina’s City Council issued an apology on behalf of the entire city, recognizing its historic role in slavery, discrimination and the witholding of basic rights from its Black community.

Following a declaration that racism is a public health issue by the county’s public health board, Asheville provided reparations in the form of investments into areas where Black residents face inequality, such as home ownership, career opportunities, health care and neighborhood safety. 

Earlier this month, the quiet college town of Amherst, Massachusetts underwent a brutal awakening of their own, and set a new precedent for equity and unity. They are now committed to “a path of remedy” for any and all Black residents that were “injured or harmed by discrimination and racial injustice.”

The reparations have yet to be set, but leaders of Boston’s NAACP believe that Black residents should be in charge of the settlements. 

Last week, the Jesuit Conference of the United States and Canada also pledged $100 million to be distributed to descendants of the Black people that the Catholic order once enslaved and sold. 

Evanston has now joined in as the Chicago suburb’s City Council voted 8-1 to give $400,000 to eligible Black households. Each qualifying household would receive $25,000 for home repairs of down payments on property.

Funding for the reparations program comes from donations, as well as revenue from the 3% tax sale on recreational marijuana. The city has pledged to distribute a total of $10 million over the next 10 years.

Residents who are eligible to receive the funding must have either lived in or been a direct descendant of a Black person who lived in Evanston between 1919 and 1969, and suffered discrimination in housing due to city ordinances, policies or practices. 

Alderman Rue Simmons proposed the program in 2019, and said that pro-reparations groups have offered pro-bono legal assistance in the case that the program is challenged in court. 

“This is set aside for an injured community that happens to be Black, that was injured by the city of Evanston for anti-Black housing policies,” Simmons said. 

City Council acted after dozens of citizens addressed the body and the plan received some opposition from several. 

Alderman Cicely Fleming was the only person who voted against the plan, even though she is in support of reparations. Fleming argued that this program feels more like a housing plan and is poorly named. She insisted that the people should be able to dictate the terms of how their grievances will be repaid. 

Fleming said that the program is patronizing, and assumes Black people are incapable of handling their own finances. 

Research by the city council’s subcommittee showed that Evanston has historically limited its Black residents to live within a triangle between North Shore Canal, Union Pacific railroad tracks and Church Street, and subjected them to other discriminatory practices. 

Today, white people in the city earn nearly double the income and possess double the home valuations of their Black neighbors, according to the most recent U.S Census data. This racial wealth gap extends nationally, with Black Americans possessing less than 15% of the wealth white Americans have. 

The initiative started here in Illinois could become a blueprint for other cities. In the past U.S. Congress has introduced a bill called H.R 40, which seeks to create a national commission to study potential reparations. 

"I do believe that we're committed as a city," Simmons told ABC News. "I can't wait to celebrate with the family that receives their first reparation benefit. I cannot wait for that day."

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