Black Enclaves Lost to Development – NBC Chicago

Terrell Osborne knows what happens when urban renewal affects communities of color.

As a child growing up in Providence, Rhode Island in the 1950s and 1960s, huge swaths of his Lippitt Hill neighborhood, a center of black life at the foot of the stately homes of the city’s elite East Side , have been taken by eminent domain for redevelopment projects.

Hundreds of black families and dozens of small minority businesses on approximately 30 acres were bulldozed. In their place was an apartment complex accommodating downtown workers and students and professors from nearby Brown University, as well as a mall now anchored by a Whole Foods and Starbucks.

Meanwhile, black families like the Osbornes were scattered across town and never received compensation.

“We had stores. People owned things. Money was flowing around,” said Osborne, who now lives on the south side of Providence. “There was a whole community there, and they just took that neighborhood and we never got anything in return. Not even as much as a thank you.

As Providence prepares to provide reparations to black residents for centuries of injustice, city officials are looking beyond the city’s leading role in the transatlantic colonial slave trade.

They seek to atone, at least initially, for what happened during the urban renewal efforts of the late 20th century, a period that saw black and Native American communities such as Lippitt Hill razed to make way for new residential and commercial developments that have paved the way. way to the city’s modern economy, anchored around its universities and hospitals.

The approach builds on the model of Evanston, a Chicago suburb that became the first in the nation to start paying for repairs last year with a program offering black residents grants for mortgage payments and repairs. homes, in recognition of the historic discrimination black people have faced when trying to buy homes.

By making progress on these modern wrongs, communities can hopefully begin to overcome longstanding resistance to reparations, says Justin Hansford, a Howard University Law School professor who directs the African American Redress Network, which tracks repair efforts nationwide.

Local towns and villages, colleges, and even states are increasingly accepting reparations, as efforts at the federal level have come to naught. Harvard University announced last week it would spend $100 million to atone for its slave ties as California spearheads a nationwide reparations task force. the state.

“We know it’s a lost conversation to talk about slavery in the 1600s,” said Raymond “Two Hawks” Watson, a member of Providence’s newly formed reparations commission, whose family has long lived in the Lippitt Hill area. “But we also know that we don’t have to go that far back. We know what happened with urban renewal and we can see what is happening with gentrification. We are able to show that this is just a continuation of what has been going on for centuries.

Providence’s efforts also include using some $15 million in federal COVID-19 funds to kick-start repair work, something other city leaders have been pursuing recently.

In March 2021, Evanston City Council approved what many are calling the world’s first municipal repairs plan. The money will be used specifically to compensate people who have been harmed by the city’s past practice of redlining — or to deny financial or other services to people who live in certain areas because of their race or ethnicity. The reparations movement has spanned generations, but not everyone who supports reparations is happy with the program. NBCLX storyteller Jalyn Henderson reports from Evanston, Illinois.

In Athens, Georgia, Mayor Kelly Girtz said his proposed budget would use pandemic relief money to create a housing fund for black residents similar to Evanston’s. Athens, like Providence, seeks to atone for the razing of the black neighborhood of Linnentown to make way for dormitories and parking lots at the University of Georgia in the 1960s.

In Providence, centuries of discrimination have left communities of color far poorer than white enclaves: Median household income in the wealthy and largely white East Side is nearly $180,000 a year, compared to nearly $19,000 in the south side of town, which is predominantly black and Latino.

On Lippitt Hill, families were not compensated, but instead offered priority to claim a unit in the new residential development, which became known as University Heights, Osborne says. But modern apartments were financially out of reach for most.

Cheryl Taylor, whose family was forced to relocate and close their repair business on Lippitt Hill to make way for another development, hopes the repair process can help black residents buy their own homes. The few people like her who still live nearby are tenants in an increasingly unaffordable part of town.

“They are all white. I don’t know these people,” Taylor says of the neighborhood’s new residents.

Looking back, Osborne wonders if the destruction of his old neighborhood was an effort to dilute the growing power of the city’s black community.

Osborne’s family was one of a number of working-class, but upwardly mobile, black households on the hill that separates the East Side from the city center.

His grandfather, Clarence “Legs” Osborne, was a trumpeter who played with Count Basie, Duke Ellington and other famous black musical groups. Her uncle, Jeffrey Osborne, became a Grammy-nominated R&B singer with a string of hits in the 1980s, including “On the Wings of Love.”

Osborne, who runs a Providence organization that provides musical opportunities for young people, says he would like to see the city create a fund or college scholarship programs to help black residents build equity, rather than making direct payments to affected families like his.

“The question of reparations is always where to start. Why not start with something tangible? he said. ” We are here. We are not buried in the past, and we know something should have happened then. Maybe now is the time.”

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