Racism Displaced Chicago-area Black Families. This Man Wants to Pay Tribute to Them.

In 2021, former Harvard Business School professor Steven Rogers released “A Letter to My White Friends and Colleagues: What You Can Do Right Now to Help the Black Community.” Through research, case studies and personal stories, Rogers set out to address the problem of the racial wealth gap in America and provide practical solutions to righting centuries of wrongs. His book calls on white people to support Black-owned businesses and deposit savings in Black-owned banks, which can, in turn, provide loans to Black businesses and mortgages to Black families.

Now, the Chicago-area resident is taking another big step to help Black residents by purchasing property with important historical significance to the community.

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Rogers purchased Evanston, Ill.’s Second Church of Christ, Scientist in late 2022. The parking lot was once home to the Sutton family, who built their home there only to be moved to a predominately Black part of town in the late 1920s.

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Black people began settling in Evanston, a suburb 12 miles north of downtown Chicago, around 1850 — with many finding employment as domestic workers. Even more moved there with the Great Migration. By 1940, Evanston was home to over 6,000 Black residents. But through informal redlining, Black residents were displaced and relegated to designated Black neighborhoods; many of the town’s restaurants, stores and hotels refused to serve Black people.

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Rogers knows that the displaced Black families lost a huge opportunity for generational wealth, but he hopes to use his purchase as a way to honor them.

“I bought it because the idea of putting land back in the hands of Black ownership was something that I wanted to do,” he told The Chicago Tribune in an interview. “Also, I wanted to somehow pay homage to the Black families that were forced to move.”

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Rogers made improvements to the church, including adding a new electrical system and auditorium stage. He plans to rent the space free of charge for Black cultural events. And he’s added a special tribute to the displaced families in the newly refurbished parking lot.

“If you go to the parking lot, you see spaces that have numbers in front of them — those five spaces that have numbers, are the addresses of the Black families who were forced to move,” he said. “I’m gonna continue to do things in that parking lot in homage to those Black families. I’m going to put their names on the spaces as well.”