Six years ago, North Carolina set aside $10 million in reparations to compensate victims of a state eugenics program that forcibly sterilized more than 7,000 people well into the 1970s — many of whom were Black.
Now one city is weighing a different set of reparations.
Asheville City Council in western North Carolina is set to vote on a resolution next week that supports community reparations for Black residents, according to an agenda for the July 14 meeting published online.
“Black People have been unjustly enslaved,” the resolution states.
The city of Asheville “apologizes and makes amends for its participation in and sanctioning of the enslavement of Black people,” “for its enforcement of segregation and its accompanying discriminatory practices” and “for carrying out an urban renewal program that destroyed multiple, successful Black communities,” it continues.
The Memorial Day death of 46-year-old George Floyd, a Black man, while in police custody sparked an avalanche of protests across the nation. He died after a now-fired Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck, as three other officers didn’t intervene. All four officers have been charged in Floyd’s death.
The death of Floyd and other Black Americans during encounters with police has also reignited the discussion around reparations for Black people impacted by systemic racism in America.
Reparations is a broad term. According to the Constitutional Rights Foundation, it’s a concept that’s been around since the Civil War. At its core is the idea of “redress for egregious injustices,” according to an April report published by the Brookings Institution titled “Why we need reparations for Black Americans.”
“It is time to really have a serious conversation about restoring the wealth that’s been extracted by racism,” Andre Perry, who co-authored the report, told MarketWatch.
‘Wealth is measure through real estate’
Asheville is a city of 92,000 people — close to 12% of which are Black, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Under the proposed resolution, the city would establish a Community Reparations Commission to help put city funds and resources toward programs benefiting Asheville’s Black residents.
The resolution outlines some of what that might look like, including “increasing minority home ownership and access to other affordable housing, increasing minority business ownership and career opportunities, strategies to grow equity and generational wealth, closing the gaps in health care, education, employment and pay, neighborhood safety and fairness within criminal justice.”
Rob Thomas is community liaison for the Asheville Racial Justice Coalition, which pushed to have reparations put on the city council’s agenda through a social media campaign.
“Wealth is measured through real estate and real property,” Thomas told the Asheville Citizen Times. “And in any system that deals with economics, there are so many things that keep people of color out — so many policies, so many different areas where you have gatekeepers who can decide to let you in or not let you in.”
Chicago looks at how to ‘make amends’
Asheville isn’t the first city in the U.S. to consider reparations for Black residents.
The proposal on the table mirrors a resolution in Chicago that established a “Chicago Citizens of African Descent Reparations Commission,” The Chicago Sun-Times reported. The commission is tasked with investigating “how one of the most segregated cities in the nation could best make amends for the impact of slavery,” according to the newspaper.
Chicago’s City Council approved the resolution June 17, the Sun-Times reported.
The City of Evanston, a suburb of Chicago, has also instituted a reparations program, according to The Guardian.
The city council voted last year to approve a local reparations program funded by sales taxes on recreational marijuana, which was legalized in Illinois on Jan. 1, The Guardian reported.
It wasn’t immediately clear how the funds will be used, but “proponents say (the program) could become a model for other communities and even the gigantic federal government itself,” according to the British newspaper.