Chicago-area efforts on reparations and the racial wealth gap – Crain’s Chicago Business – DC Initiative on Racial Equity
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Irene and Winfield Garnett could afford to build a home in north suburban Evanston, but discriminatory policies limited their choice of location to a single area.

Lucious and Minerva Sutton were faced with a heartbreaking decision: See their home raised from its foundation and moved to a segregated part of town against their wishes or watch it be torn down.

The experiences of both families in the 1920s—and many others over decades—formed the backdrop of a pioneering effort last year when Evanston became the nation’s first municipality to fund a program to grant reparations to African Americans.

For generations, having a place to call home for many Black residents meant living in the city’s segregated 5th Ward.

They had no choice.

Historical documents reveal the myriad ways that public and private actions confined Black residents to disinvested neighborhoods, denying them opportunities to buy the homes of their choice and leverage high property values to build generational wealth.

Home values in the tight-knit Black community were substantially lower and living conditions were considerably poorer than in neighborhoods where white families could live.

The forced relocation of the Sutton home to the 5th Ward in 1929 triggered an avalanche of personal and financial losses for the family, says Carlis Sutton, 79, grandson of Lucious and Minerva Sutton.

Those losses reverberate to this day.

“My family was victimized,” Sutton says.

Growing up in the 5th Ward, former Ald. Robin Rue Simmons witnessed how racism limited the life choices of Black residents.

“In February 2019, I came to the revelation that equity is not enough to address the egregious harms to the Black community and that reparations at the local level were in order based on the conditions in Black Evanston,” says Simmons, who introduced a resolution that year calling for reparations when she represented the ward in the Evanston City Council.

Not surprisingly, the process hasn’t been easy.

Officials have had to grapple with thorny questions: How do you repair decades of discrimination? What are people owed for what was denied or taken from them? Can you level the playing field when one race has had more than a century head start?

Municipalities nationwide are struggling to answer those questions as they consider ways to redress slavery, past discrimination and ongoing racism.

‘THE STATUS QUO IS NOT ACCEPTABLE’

In the wake of Black Lives Matter protests, momentum began building for reparat


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