EVANSTON, Ill. — This week, the state of California released the first-ever comprehensive look at the impact of 150 years of slavery on Black life in America. The 484-page report details the long-lasting harms that enslavement and discrimination had on generations of Black families.
This past spring, Evanston, Illinois became the first city in the nation to issue reparations through a government payment program.
It was a first step in attempting to rectify the residue of slavery, segregation and redlining in that city. Their first initiative focuses on decades of housing discrimination.
“I was born here in Evanston in 1935,” said 86-year-old Louis Weathers.
He still lives in the home his parents bought on Brown Avenue in 1933.
“We were the first Black family on that street — Brown Avenue — helped a block from the high school,” Weathers said.
At the time his father had to drive his mother almost an hour to the county hospital to give birth.
“Because Evanston Hospital and Saint Francis were not accepting Black mothers,” Weathers said.
The city of Evanston – situated along the North Shore of Lake Michigan has been confronting a history of discrimination and racism for decades.
“They were charging you at different rates because of the color of your skin. They wouldn’t show you the houses in certain neighborhoods,” Weathers said.
It is now one of the first cities in the US to address it through government-funded financial reparations.
“It’s basically this area that in the early 1900s, there was a lot of redlining being done,” said Evanston city council member Peter Braithwaite pointing to a map of the area in the city where redlining was notorious.
“It answers the call of inequities. I mean, when you look at what’s going on in this country, particularly with the violence, with the pains of the pandemic, Black people always fall at the bottom of the list,” said Braithwaite, who is the chair of the city’s reparations committee .
The city council approved $10 million dollars to fund the program. It started by providing grants of up to $25,000 to purchase a home, home improvement or mortgage assistance.
“I thought it was a nice amount, but not enough,” said Ramona Burton, one of the first 16 recipients.
She met the qualifications of an ‘Ancestor’ – an African American or Black adult who was an Evanston resident between 1919 and 1969.
“I was happy even to get that 25,000 because I wouldn’t have been able to do the repairs and renovations on my home without that money,” said Burton.
“The past discrimination is hard to assess in dollars and cents, you know,” said Weathers.
For Louis Weathers, the award was a way to help his son get ahead. Half to reduce his mortgage and the rest to cover payments for two years.
“I feel very blessed that some amount was allocated because I cannot put a value on that,” said Weathers.
Braithwaite says they are taking it slowly. They are learning along the way, and he says they are mindful that this is just a start.
“In no way do we expect just this one initiative to solve all the issues that we’ve experienced here in Evanston,” said Braithwaite. “And I think the same that can be said across the country.”