Civil rights leaders considering reparations proposal for racist housing policies in Annapolis
Local civil rights activists are preparing to submit a reparations proposal to the Annapolis, Anne Arundel County and Maryland state governments.
Looking to compensate those affected by discriminatory housing policies in Annapolis, the request will be part of upcoming meetings with Gov. Wes Moore and County Executive Steuart Pittman, said Carl Snowden, convener of the Caucus of African American Leaders. The caucus is set to vote on the proposal at a meeting Tuesday evening.
“Now is the right time because it’s always right to do right,” Snowden told The Capital. “And this is the right thing to do.”
A virtual meeting of the caucus Monday morning featured a presentation by Robin Rue Simmons, who spearheaded the nation’s first cash reparations program in Evanston, Illinois. A Chicago suburb, Evanston has approximately 75,500 residents, 16% of whom are Black, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
In 2019, during her time as an Evanston city alderman, Rue Simmons proposed using tax revenue from recreational cannabis sales to reimburse residents for anti-Black housing laws. With only one dissenting vote, the Evanston City Council overwhelmingly approved the measure, pledging to distribute $10 million over the program’s first 10 years.
Since then, Rue Simmons reported the initiative has only grown in support and scale. Expanding its revenue source last year to include a real estate tax, the city’s pledge has doubled to $20 million, and an additional $1 million has been donated by community members.
Rue Simmons now directs a nonprofit dedicated to local reparations movements and has worked alongside communities in Baltimore and Washington D.C. Speaking to the Maryland-based caucus Monday morning, she said an assembly of stakeholders, legal and academic experts and allies on the ground were vital to Evanston’s success.
“We’ve proven the concept,” Rue Simmons said. “We’ve been disbursing reparations and our city hasn’t blown up and we haven’t had any legal case that has been viable because of our thoughtful legal leadership and a narrowly tailored framework for reparations.”
While discussions around reparations and specifically easing the economic gap created by American slavery are not new, historically, they have not generated many results. Snowden began Monday’s meeting by stating that lingering financial disparities in the Black community can be traced, at least in part, to the federal government’s failed distribution plan for freed slaves following the Civil War — more commonly known as the “40 acres and a mule” promise.
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However, across the nation, several communities have started to consider their own reparations proposals. In late June, a California task force submitted a report two years in the making recommending action and compensation for those affected by slavery. Though California entered the union as a free state, scholars estimate upward of 1,500 slaves were trafficked there by the mid-1800s.
Despite these efforts from cities and states, public support for reparations stemming from slavery remains largely unpopular. A 2021 survey from the Pew Research Center found 30% of American adults endorsed the idea, with approval ratings steadily dropping among older age groups. For instance, 45% of people ages 18 to 29 support reparations, while only 18% do in the 65 and older demographic.
Rue Simmons said Monday a calculated, fact-based proposal specifying local legislation and measuring its harm is the best way to work toward reparations. And Snowden targeted Annapolis’ urban renewal policies as a place to start — legislation that was repealed in 2021.
Framed as a national initiative to fund large-scale redevelopment of supposed rundown areas — the famed writer and activist James Baldwin referred to it as “Negro Removal” — urban renewal in Annapolis displaced dozens of Black families and isolated them in public housing communities along the outskirts of the city.
A 1982 investigation by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development found a “stated objective” of Annapolis’ urban renewal plan was “to end minority concentration” in its downtown area “and insure no further minority concentration.”
At the time, Snowden said the federal government had found Maryland “guilty of de facto segregation.” Now, with a Black governor in office and steady representation in the Maryland General Assembly, he thinks urban renewal could become the basis for reparations in Annapolis.
“We’ve got the elements, I think, to be successful,” Snowden said.