Terrell Osborne knows all too well what happens when urban renewal comes to communities of color.
As a child growing up in Providence, Rhode Island in the 1950s and 1960s, vast areas of his neighborhood of Lippit Hill, the center of black life on the floor of the stately homes of the city’s elite East Side, were taken over by prestigious domains . for redevelopment projects.
Hundreds of black families were forced to relocate and dozens of minority small businesses spanning nearly 30 acres were bulldozed. In their place an apartment complex was built, catering to the downtown workers and students and faculty of nearby Brown University, as well as a shopping plaza, now anchored by Whole Foods and Starbucks.
Meanwhile, black families like the Osborne were scattered throughout the city and were never compensated.
“We had stores. People had stuff. Money was floating around,” said Osborne, who now lives on the Providence South Side. “There was a whole community out there, and they just took that neighborhood and we never got anything for it. Not even that much, thank you.”
As Providence prepares to compensate black residents for centuries of injustice, city officials are looking beyond the city’s leading role in the colonial transatlantic slave trade.
They are seeking to atone, at least initially, during the urban renewal efforts of the late 20th century, a period in which black and Native American communities such as Lippit Hill sought to make way for new residential and commercial development. paved the way for The way for the city’s modern economy, anchored around its universities and hospitals.
The approach builds on the blueprint in Evanston, a Chicago suburb that last year became the first in the country to start paying reparations, providing grants for mortgage payments and home repairs to black residents, an acknowledgment of historical discrimination. Black people in the U.S. endured while trying to buy a home.
By making progress on such modern-day mistakes, communities can hopefully begin to overcome long-standing resistance, says Justin Hansford, a professor at Howard University’s law school who heads the African American Prevention Network. Leads, which tracks repair efforts nationwide.
Local cities and towns, colleges and even states are increasingly compensating because efforts at the federal level have gone nowhere. Harvard University announced last week that it would spend $100 million to atone for his slave ties, while California is leading a statewide task force on reparations.
“We know that talking about slavery in the 1600s is a losing conversation,” said Raymond “Two Hawks” Watson, a member of the recently constituted Reunification Commission of Providence, whose family has long lived in the Lippit Hill area. lives. “But we also know that we don’t have to go far back. We know what happened with urban renewal and we can see what’s happening with gentrification. We’ve been able to show that it’s what happened over the centuries.” There is a series of it going on. ”
Providence’s efforts also notably see some $15 million in federal COVID-19 funds to be used to begin reparations work, something other city leaders have recently followed.
In Athens, Georgia, Mayor Kelly Girtz says her proposed budget calls for using pandemic relief money to set up a housing fund for black residents similar to Evanston. Athens, like Providence, seeks to atone for the destruction of the Black neighborhood of Linentown in the 1960s to make way for the University of Georgia dormitories and parking lots.
In Providence, centuries of discrimination have left communities of color far poorer than white enclaves: about $19,000 in the city’s predominantly Black and Latino South Side compared to the average on the affluent, largely white East Side. Household income is approximately $180,000 per year.
On Lippit Hill, families were not compensated, but instead offered priority in claiming 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 her repair business on Lippit Hill to make way for another development, hopes the reparations process can help black residents buy their homes. Some like him who live nearby are tenants in a rapidly growing part of the city.
“They’re all white. I don’t know these people,” Taylor says of the neighborhood’s new residents.
Looking back, Osborne wonders whether the destruction of his old neighborhood was an attempt to undermine the growing power of the city’s black community.
Osborne’s family was among the many working-class but black houses running uphill on the hill that separates the East Side from downtown.
His grandfather, Clarence “Legs” Osborne, was a trumpeter who played with Count Basie, Duke Ellington and other famous black music acts. His uncle, Jeffrey Osborne, became a Grammy-nominated R&B singer in the 1980s with a string of hits, including on the wings of love,
Osborne, who heads the Providence organization providing musical opportunities to youth, says he wants the city to set up a college scholarship fund to help black residents build equity, rather than pay directly to affected families like him. or install the program.
“With change the question is always, ‘Where do you start?’ Why not start with something that is tangible?” They said. “Were here. We haven’t been buried in the past, and we know something must have happened then. Maybe the time has come.”