By Michael Nabors
Evanston/North Shore NAACP
In November 2019, the Evanston City Council passed a resolution to finance a reparations program for 10 million dollars over a ten year period, for black people who suffered discrimination in Evanston. While the movement on the resolution was slowed because of COVID19, last Monday marked a pivotal moment in the history of the United States. The first municipality, town or city in this nation is now beginning reparations in Evanston. While it is a thousand mile journey, this first step is seismic. It will help some black families with housing in Evanston. It will show this nation that reparations is no longer a subject for discussion and analysis. But it is an issue ready for implementation. In the weeks and months to come, the reparations initiative will expand and reach deeply into other areas as described in the 2019 resolution. More and more Black organizations and businesses, residents and workers, will work towards these next steps.
While there is certainly not full agreement on the first step of the first reparations program in the United States, please make no mistake about it, reparations has begun in the United States. And we are proud to bear witness and participate in the first steps.
How far back does one have to go to consider reparations for the men and women, families and children whose ancestors arrived from the African Diaspora. In 1619 twenty Africans arrived at Plymouth Rock beginning the institution the African Slave Trade on the North American continent. During the American Revolution, a great many black slaves were promised freedom if they fought with the colonies against the England. The vast majority of those promises never came to pass. In her recently published book Until Justice Be Done, Northwestern University professor Kate Masur contends that America’s first civil rights movement started as many blacks and whites fought against black laws established by the colonies in the early years of our nation’s history. These laws denied both slaves and free blacks nearly all civil rights. From the Revolutionary War to the Civil War, as the abolitionist movement emerged, so too did a number of lawsuits seeking to grant equality to blacks, in the same way it was granted to whites.
The Civil War saw hundreds of black soldiers joining the Union Army. This turned the tide of the war and the north emerged victorious. Much like the aftermath of the Revolutionary War, there was hope that blacks would be granted freedom, not in name only, but in a tangible reparations initiative- 40 acres and a mule. Such a national enterprise did not occur precisely because of the rancid racism so predominate in the United States Congress.
While the next 100 years offered significant advancements; Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education in 1954, the success of the Montgomery Boycott in 1956, the March on Washington in 1963, the Civil Rights Bill in 1964 and the Voting Rights Bill in 1965, to name a few. Yet, there was still not a single act of tangible reparations for black people who continued to suffer unprecedented acts of racism.