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Evanston Reparations Program Brings Renewed Focus To National Conversation

 Aerial view of Evanston, Illinois.  [Felix Mizioznikov/Shutterstock]
Aerial view of Evanston, Illinois. [Felix Mizioznikov/Shutterstock]

In late March, the City Council of Evanston, Illinois approved a program that is believed to be a first-of-its kind reparations effort.  The Chicago suburb  plans to use tax money from recreational marijuana sales to create a $10 million fund that make payments to Black residents  for past housing discrimination and the long-lasting impacts of slavery.  Eligible Black Evanstonians may receive up to $25,000 to assist with purchasing, paying for or repairing a home.  The program to help erase disparities created by discriminatory housing practice is the first initiative to be funded. 

Passage of the program was not unanimous.  Critics say the program already earmarks what the payments to families can be used for rather than leaving how best to spend the money up to the recipients.

Reparations is not a new idea, but the topic seems to be gaining traction after the national conversation on race that was sparked last year by Black Lives Matter protests in cities across the country. A number of reparations issues are being considered nationwide.  The state of California and cities such as Providence Rhode Island, Iowa City Iowa, Asheville, North Carolina and Amherst, Massachusetts are according to published reports considering their own initiatives.

Support for reparations is divided along racial lines with Blacks strongly supporting the idea of government payments to descendants of enslaved people compared to support from 20-percent of whites.

At the federal level, in February, a House Judiciary sub-committee held a hearing on a piece of legislation known as H.R. 40. Lawmakers have repeatedly introduced the bill since 1989.  It calls for a federal commission to study reparations and make recommendations on how the U.S. government may redress the impacts of slavery.  President Joe Biden says he supports a study on the matter.

The topic of reparations brings reactions  from supporters who say reparations must be paid for the sin of slavery and its continuing harm to Black people; and from opponents who say reparations aren't warranted because of the expense and because no one alive today was involved in slavery.

A panel of three Northeast Ohio university professors discusses the topic of reparations including the program in Evanston plus how the pandemic and the national conversation on race started in 2020 may help drive the dialogue.

Ronnie Dunn, Ph.D., Interim Chief Diversity Officer, Assoc. Professor Urban Studies, Cleveland State University
Marilyn Mobley, Ph.D., Professor of English and African American Studies, Case Western Reserve University
David Miller, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Director of International Education Programs, Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences, Case Western Reserve University 


Leigh Barr is a coordinating producer for the "Sound of Ideas" and the "Sound of Ideas Reporters Roundtable."