HOUSTON – Reparations or compensation to descendants of enslaved Americans has begun for families in a Chicago suburb, becoming the first American city to do so.
The town of Evanston is now giving eligible Black residents $25,000 housing grants.
As part of our Stronger Houston series, KPRC 2 explores the conversation of reparations here in the Houston area.
Reparations -- what many consider a controversial topic with many different thoughts and opinions on both sides.
Some opponents say reparations are divisive and spending $20 million for the misdeeds of others is not a good idea.
Supporters say Americans should want to atone for the country’s horrific past, and now is the time to repay descendants of slaves for what their families have lost.
“It’s like they’re trying to erase our past,” Eugene Howard said.
“The way I feel, they have erased it,” said Eugene’s grandmother, Mary Gardner.
Mary Gardner grew up on a piece of land near Highway 99 in New Territory, where their family’s church still stands, which used to be 100 acres wide.
“My great-great-great-grandfather Premise Jones was a Union Soldier that fought against Robert E. Lee and the Confederacy, and in 1877, he came right here where we’re standing and purchased 100 acres and in 1880, erected this church -- Thompson Chapel,” Howard said.
Howard said the family is still searching for answers on how it was taken from them.
“The most sad part is, they built baseball fields and homes on top of the cemetery where we laid our warriors to rest,” Howard said.
In another part of Fort Bend County, a much darker history.
The discovery of the Sugarland 95 and the state’s convict leasing program.
“It was an institutional system where individuals were prosecuted for sometimes no crimes, sometimes for petty crime and the average lifespan of a convict was 7 years,” said Rev. David Sincere, who is a part of the Society of Justice and Equality for the People of Sugarland
“What happened to them was an atrocity but we also look at it as an opportunity to heal and bring the community together,” Sincere said.
He said many of the prisoners were chemists, builders, carpenters, building railroads and homes, and they were never paid for their work. Their families never reaped any benefits from what they helped build.
“The issue concerning reparations, the issue concerning what happened after slavery, is a moral issue. We’re still fighting a lot of the same battles that we’ve been fighting for years, having programs can all be part of the discussion regarding reparations if we can get there,” Sincere said.
Chris Tomlinson, a direct descendant of a slaveholder, agrees. His family came to Texas in 1849.
Ten years ago, Chris decided to investigate his family’s slaveholding history.
“I grew up being taught by my grandfather that I should be proud that our ancestors were slaveholders, that it meant that we’re part of Texas aristocracy, he also said our ancestors were good slaveholders that they had treated their slaves well,” Tomlinson said.
But he found out that was not true. His ancestors were brutal people who tortured those they enslaved, he said.
“I don’t think anyone can deny that our society did great harm to African Americans and we have to repay them in some way for that bad behavior. It’s a complicated issue. I think every community is going to have to deal with it differently but undoubtedly we have to do more to help end this systematic discrimination that still continues today,” Tomlinson said.
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee has been working on a reparations bill for quite some time now.
Bill HR 40 would introduce a commission to begin talks on what reparations would look like here in the Houston area.
“Reparations for the calamity that happened in America, this original sin, why shouldn’t you want us to be repaired, it’s not an indictment but a repairing,” said Lee.
She said the bill has gotten bipartisan support. She believes this is the year the reparations bill will pass too.