How Black residents in America’s 1st city to fund reparations proved they were owed

The city of Evanston has committed $10 million over the next decade in an attempt to repay Black residents for the wrongs and accumulated losses incurred by generations of racism.
9:28 | 03/03/21

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Transcript for How Black residents in America’s 1st city to fund reparations proved they were owed
Early in my childhood, I was invited to have a play date. My white friends never had a play date at my home. So I went to Megan's house. The streets are wider. The homes were bigger and brighter already it was obvious that it was the barrier of race that kept from us that because the segregation was race based. Reporter: Even here, evanston, Illinois, a proudly liberal suburb of Chicago. The barrier and burden of race have long weighed heavy, like a winter storm. Evanston's alderman for the fifth ward, robin Ruth Simmons, was born and raised in the historically black neighborhood she represents. This community was red line historically. That has come along with damages that continue today. Resources were stripped away from the black community along with wealth as well. Reporter: The city's plan to change that? Reparations. An idea long debated, proposed over 150 years ago. First, 40 acres of land. Later, a mule. For formerly enslaved people to share the American dream, built on their backs, for free. We built this nation! Reporter: A promise long broken until now. This is a historic vote -- Reporter: Evanston is set to become the first U.S. City to pay out reparations. A total of $10 million starting with increments of up to $25,000 per person for housing. I didn't start my elected career even discussing reparations. What changed? I was looking at data. I was looking at what we had done. And reparations was the only answer. The only answer? The only answer. The only answer? The only. Any more of the same was going to only, at best, help us sustain the oppressed state and the disparity that we have. Only? That's a big word, the only? The only legislative response for us to reconcile the damages in the black community is Why housing? Housing specifically and home ownership is a path to begin to build wealth. When you have stable housing, you have an opportunity just to breathe and think about what's next. It provides a sense of place in a community where we're largely renters now, and we should be owning. We anticipate litigation, with the premise that you cannot use tax money that's from the public to benefit a particular group of people. But throughout history, taxes were used to benefit a certain group of people, while others were excluded from that. Reporter: Dino Robinson is the founder of sure front, an archive dead dated to chronicling and celebrating black life in evanston, a richness long undervalued. His documentation going back to the late 1800s, invaluable in measuring the cost of racism and the need for reparations. Black community members were moving throughout evanston and forming pockets in the city of Evanson. The white community started packicing, what do we do about this? The response, redlining, a federally sanctioned project, assigning market value to neighborhoods, a grading system. A to D. The "D" areas were relegated to the black community. The area "D" was always in red. Reporter: This deliberately pushed evanston's black families into an area that became the fifth ward, segregating them from white families, sought-after property, and ultimately, wealth. Things in evanston -- banks would not loan to black families, real estate agencies would not show you anything other than the fifth ward. That map is the map of our black community. Reporter: Today white residents in evanston have nearly doubled the value in home income of black residents. This racial wealth gap is prevalent nationally. Black Americans possessing less than 15% of the wealth that white Americans have. I am 98 years old. We moved to evanston in 1959. This is the lot. Reporter: Black residents who lived throug red lining and their descendents are eligible for reparations. That includes vin gain senior and his son junior. Vin grew up in 1920s Dixon, Kentucky, part of the old south, the business end of an era's most violent weapon against African-Americans, Jim crow. He landed in evanston. Jim crow wore a smile, but still inflicted home on black home buyers. The contractor, he said find a lot anywhere in evanston, and I'll build whatever you want. Well, when he said that, he meant in the black neighborhoods. And we still have these types of problems. Uncle vin as realist, he calls it like he sees it. Reporter: Younger members of vn senior's family, his grand nephew Jared and his children, Nick ask Maya, know a more Progressive era. Growing up in evanston for me was definitely good despite the racism that I faced. Will you apply for the reparations? I will. And why? Because it's owed. Quote-unquote wealthy African-Americans are not the equivalent of quote-unquote wealthy white Americans in this National reparations policy economic imperative. Reporter: House resolution 40 is the latest national step toward reparations. Supporters have included tan that hassy Coates and actor Danny glover. Hr-40 was an opportunity to have a commission to study reparations, but also the further context in which we look at slavery and the impact that it had on us. It seems to me your journey with reparations is America's journey with reparations. You are the grandson of sharecroppers, people who are a generation away fromslavery. Yeah. I wonder if you'd ever thought about, how might Danny glover's life have been different if your grandparents, the sharecroppers, had been given the reparations promised them, had they been given 40 acres and a mule? How might your life have been different? I never thought about that. You know what I'm saying? I know they did what they could. They made it work with -- it's extraordinary belief in the possibility of this country. So you think evanston can be an example for the nation? I think it can. Evanston, Illinois, did something no other city has done. If we're able to use that as a platform, maybe other cities might adopt the whole idea of this. Reporter: And other cities could take up evanston's sweetly ironic funding solution, a 3% tax on newly legal marijuana It's the most appropriate use for that sales tax. And in our city, 70% of the marijuana arrests were in the black community. And we are 16% of the community. All studies show that blacks and whites consume cannabis at the same rit. Reporter: There's been debate whether those taxes can sustain the fund long-term. Even those who proudly support reparations wonder aloud, is $25,000 too little, too late? It's a drop in the bucket. You have denied me all my 98 years. Hopefully, before I die, I'll see the world change. Uncle vin, he's 98. We can understand his skepticism. Where does your kept sim come from? I would say it's less skepticism and more education. People acting like they're ready for change, and behind closed doors other things are happening, right? We see that all the time in politics. What does it say, my 25 has to feel like that? You don't learn about these issues in school? We aren't taught history outside, slaves came from Africa. Part of reparations, it can't just be money, you have to teach us what we need to know. One could argue it's potentially more symbolic than substantive. Idisagree that it's symbolic at all. I understand $25,000 is life-saving for some families. Relative to the injury, it's not nearly enough, and I get that. This notion of reparations in evanston isn't meant to be a drop in the bucket, but the beginning of a stream that becomes a river, that becomes an Absolutely. There is a lifetime of work ahead for us to get to justice. For all of your work in this space what worries you still? Not enough resource. Not quick enough. I do believe that we're committed as a city, and I can't wait to celebrate the family that receives their first reparation benefit. I cannot wait for that day.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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