Reparations gain national momentum following Evanston’s implementation of historic program


Illustration by Gemma DeCetra

Many cities across the country are joining the reparations movement.

Ella Jeffries, Development and Recruitment Editor

Content warning: This article contains mentions of slavery.

In March 2021, Evanston became the first city in the U.S. to implement a reparations program for Black residents. Now, cities across the country are following suit. 

National organizations and local governments in states like Michigan and New York have been pushing for reparations, which can take many different forms, including housing, education and health programs. Evanston’s reparations program is in its first phase, which is focused on housing. However, the city’s reparations committee has faced some criticism, most notably because only 16 of 122 residents who qualified have been paid. 

The National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America, formed in 1987, is an organization that advocates for reparations for African descendants in the U.S.

Co-chair Woullard Lett said the Coalition’s biggest goal right now is to lobby for the national bill H.R. 40 and its companion bill, S. 40, which would establish a commission to study the harms of slavery and discrimination against African Americans and make recommendations to Congress on appropriate remedies. 

“At one time, it was commonly accepted that African people were less than human,” Lett said. “Not only did you have the federal government passing laws, but the state and local governments and institutions like businesses and schools too, so everyone is responsible for repairing harm.”  

Leaders in at least two cities said they have looked to Evanston as a model for their own programs. 

In 2020, San Francisco began researching the historical and present harms Black residents of the city experience after the Board of Supervisors — the legislative branch of the City and County of San Francisco — established the San Francisco African American Reparations Advisory Committee.

But it wasn’t until last December that the committee proposed a reparations plan to the Board. 

Chair of the African American Reparations Advisory Committee Eric McDonnell, a San Francisco native, described living in the city as a “tale of two cities.” 

“(San Francisco) is good to some and not so good to others, and unfortunately, those lines have fallen along the lines of communities of color and Black folks in particular,” McDonnell said. “I also love this city, and I want to see it finally do right by its Black community.” 

San Francisco’s proposal includes a one-time $5 million payment to each Black adult applicant who meets at least two additional requirements. Examples of these requirements include being born in San Francisco between 1940 and 1996 and living there for at least 13 years or being the descendant of an enslaved person. 

This is a stark contrast to the $10 million allotted for the entirety of Evanston’s reparations program as of the December budgetary decisions for the current fiscal year. 

The San Francisco plan also recommends giving supplementary income to bring Black, lower-income households up to the city’s median household income, which was $97,000 in 2022. That program would continue for at least 250 years, according to the draft.

McDonnell said the final version of San Francisco’s plan is due to the Board of Supervisors in June for a vote.

“I see this as a way … to do right by folks, so to speak, and make good on what had been decades — if not longer — of promises made to folks in this city,” he said. “So that’s why I raised my hand to participate.”

Though a few years behind San Francisco, St. Paul, Minnesota also moved toward concrete reparations initiatives recently.

On Jan. 4, the Saint Paul City Council established the Saint Paul Recovery Act Community Reparations Commission to serve as an advisory body to the City Council and mayor on repairing the damage caused by systemic racism.

Trahern Crews, the author of the reparations plan, said the commission is in charge of making short and long-term recommendations to the City Council and mayor about reparations for descendants of chattel slavery residing in St. Paul. He has heard most residents suggesting direct cash payments and reparations for education. 

Cash payments have been another point of contention within Evanston — in the city, those chosen to receive reparations must dedicate that money toward specific housing-related finances. 

“I see a lot of Black Americans fighting hard to get ahead, but still find themselves in poverty or in tough situations,” Crews said. “And that’s not because we’re dumb, stupid or lazy, but because of white supremacy and institutional racism.”

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @ellajeffriess

Related Stories: 

Reparations Committee discusses funding, resident experiences with reparations

Panelists address resident skepticism at reparations town hall Saturday

City Council allocates additional funding from cannabis tax to reparations program