PROVIDENCE, RI (AP) – Terrell Osborne is well aware of what happens when urban renewal comes to colorful communities.
As a child in the 1950s and 1960s in Providence, Rhode Island, vast areas of its neighborhood Lipit Hill, the center of black life at the foot of the majestic homes of the elite East Side of the city, were seized by outstanding possessions. for reconstruction projects.
Hundreds of black families and dozens of small businesses from minorities on about 30 acres were demolished by bulldozers. In their place was a residential complex that serves workers, students and faculty at the nearby Brown University, as well as a shopping area where Whole Foods and Starbucks now stand.
Meanwhile, black families such as Osborne were scattered around the city and never received compensation.
“We had shops. People owned things. Money was circulating around, ”said Osborne, who now lives on the South Side in Providence. “There was a whole community there and they just took this neighborhood and we didn’t get anything for it. Not even as much as thank you. ”
As Providence prepares to pay blacks for centuries of injustice, city officials are looking beyond the city’s leading role in the colonial transatlantic slave trade.
They seek to make up, at least initially, for what happened during urban renewal efforts in the late 20th century, a period when black and Native American communities such as Lipit Hill were demolished to make room for new housing and business. which paved the way for the city’s modern economy, cemented around its universities and hospitals.
The approach is based on a plan in Evanston, a Chicago suburb that became the first in the country to start paying reparations last year through a program that provides black people with mortgage and home repair grants in recognition of the historical discrimination black people have suffered. when trying to buy houses.
By making progress in such contemporary grievances, communities can hopefully begin to overcome long-standing resistance to reparations, says Justin Hansford, a law professor at Howard University who heads an African-American return network that tracks reparations efforts across the country.
Local cities and towns, colleges and even states are increasingly taking reparations as efforts at the federal level have come to nothing. Harvard University announced last week that it will spend $ 100 million to make up for its slavish ties, while California is a pioneer in the regular task force on reparations.
“We know that talking about slavery in the 1600s is a loss-making conversation,” said Raymond, Two Hawks, Watson, a member of the newly formed Providence Reparations Commission whose family has lived in Lipit Hill for a long time. “But we also know we don’t need to go that far back. We know what has happened with the renewal of the city and we can see what is happening with gentrification. We can show that this is just a continuation of what has been happening for centuries. “
Providence’s efforts are also aimed at using about $ 15 million in federal funds on COVID-19 to begin work on reparations, which has recently been sought by other city leaders.
In Athens, Georgia, Mayor Kelly Geert says his proposed budget calls for money to be used to help pandemic to create a housing stock for black residents similar to Evanston. Athens, like Providence, is seeking to atone for the destruction of the Black Quarter of Linentown to make room for dormitories and parking lots at the University of Georgia in the 1960s.
In the Providence century, discrimination has made colored communities much poorer than white enclaves: the average family income in the rich, predominantly white East Side is nearly $ 180,000 a year, compared to nearly $ 19,000 in the predominantly black and Latin South Side city.
On Lipit Hill, families did not receive compensation, but instead offered priority in claiming housing in a new apartment building that became known as University Heights, Osborne says. But modern apartments for most were unaffordable.
Cheryl Taylor, whose family was forced to relocate and close their renovation business on Lipit Hill to make room for other construction, hopes the reparations process could help black residents buy their own homes. People like her, left to live nearby, are tenants in an increasingly inaccessible part of town.
“They are all white. I don’t know these people, ”Taylor said about the new residents of the district.
Looking back, Osborne wonders whether the destruction of his old neighborhood was an attempt to dilute the growing power of the urban black community.
The Osborne family was part of a working class, but mobile black families on the hillside that separates the East Side from downtown.
His grandfather, Clarence “Legs” Osborne, was a trumpet player who played with Earl Basie, Duke Ellington and other famous black musicians. His uncle, Jeffrey Osborne, became a Grammy-nominated R&B singer with a number of hits in the 1980s, including “On the Wings of Love.”
Osborne, who heads Providence, a youth music organization, says he would like the city to set up a college scholarship fund or program to help black people build capital rather than make direct payments to affected families like him.
“The issue with 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 that then something had to happen. Maybe now is the time. “
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