The People is our section for all opinions and perspectives concerning Black Chicago. Submit your opinion to

My grandfather, Columbus Taylor, fled the racial violence of Jim Crow in Arkansas during the 1930s. His journey and legacy is symbolic of a larger narrative of Black struggle and migration to Chicago. 

To this day, the city of Chicago has refused to acknowledge and commit to repairing the harms that people like my grandfather experienced. His story and experience are deeply relevant to anyone in our city who wants to understand the current migrant crisis in the U.S.

Know your history: The Great Migration

My grandfather’’s journey to Chicago was part of the Great Migration, which saw approximately six million Black people leave the South between the 1910s and the 1970s. The Great Northern Drive, a campaign spearheaded by The Chicago Defender, encouraged many Black southern migrants to head North. The Defender highlighted jobs with better wages in factories, much different than the agricultural sector of the South. The leading African American newspaper also pitched homes with running water, and basic freedoms that were denied to many Black people in the South. As a result Chicago drew in around 500,000 Black southern migrants. 

Chicago didn’t embrace Black migrants with open arms, yet the city needed their labor to keep the factories profitable. Upon arrival, Black southern migrants faced overcrowded tenements, violence and entrenched racism. 

The breaking point came on July 27, 1919, when Eugene Williams, a Black teenager, drowned at a segregated Lake Michigan beach after his assailant, George Stauber, a 24-year-old white male, hit him in the head with a stone. Now remembered as the Red Summer, Williams’ death marked the beginning of a week-long spree of violence led by a white racist mob, leaving 23 Black Chicagoans dead, 342 Black people injured, and many others homeless.

Narratives fueled by scarcity, reminiscent of Red Summer, are renewed in today’s Latinx migrant crisis with little regard for the lessons of the past. Racial tension and unrest appear, at times, to be perpetuated by media coverage.

The Black community in Chicago has endured a long history of suffering, from chattel slavery to modern-day mass incarceration. Current statistics reveal stark disparities for Black people in employment, life expectancy, homeownership, education funding, and incarceration rates. Many are struggling to make ends meet.

A call for reparations

To move forward, the city of Chicago must address both the systemic historical harm inflicted upon the Black community and the current pressing migrant crisis. Pitting the struggles of Black communities against those of today’s migrants is a false dichotomy. 

These crises have distinct origins and should not be conflated. The Black community did not create borders or the economic crises that forced the current Latinx migration, U.S. foreign policy did. Similarly, migrants are not responsible for the systemic injustices experienced by Black communities.

The responsibility of Chicago, therefore, is twofold. The city must commit to reparations for the Black community, addressing the historical injustices that persist to this day. According to WTTW, a Chicago City Council’s Subcommittee on Reparations was formed in 2020, but had only met twice as of February 2022.

Simultaneously, the city must uphold its duty to ensure safety and dignity for all migrants seeking refuge. In fact, if previous administrations had truly committed to reparations, the city of Chicago would already have remedies in place to ensure recent migrants don’t suffer the hardships that many Black southern migrants experienced during the Great Migration. 

Reparations, as defined by the United Nations, include restitution and the cessation of continuing violations; satisfying those commitments would establish the infrastructure for Chicago to actualize its commitment to being a sanctuary city.

Community organizers of E.A.T. (Equity and Transformation) at City Hall fighting for reparations. Photo provided by Richard Wallace.

Progress on the horizon

Reparations are closer than many of us think. In 2002, the Chicago City Council passed the landmark Slavery Era Disclosure Ordinance. The ordinance urged corporations and institutions that are doing business with the city to disclose whether they profited from slavery. Yet, by 2022, there was no record that the ordinance had been enforced as intended.

In 2020, Chicago’s City Council established a reparations commission. The commission aimed to study the history of harm to Black Chicagoans through local and state policies and create proposals for reparations. 

Later, then-Mayor Lightfoot reduced the commission to a subcommittee of alders. Alds. Stephanie Coleman and Andre Vasquez currently chair the reparations subcommittee. 

As of February 2022, the committee needed additional funding. Without funding, the very real issue of reparations for Black Chicagoans has had little to no progress. Importantly, there is still a pathway forward.

A pathway forward

This path requires the Brandon Johnson administration to advance a robust reparations plan immediately. That plan must allocate $1 million annually in the city budget to fund the reparations committee so that the committee can function as intended and promptly introduce proposals for repair. 

Additionally, the Johnson administration must develop and advance the Office of Black Chicagoans and amend the Slavery Era Disclosure Ordinance to include an enforcement clause to ensure it’s being applied as intended.

Historically, Black people in the United States have had one particular demand that state and local governments refuse to satisfy: reparations. 

Today, the Johnson administration can meet those demands and advance reparations now! It’s time for Chicago to acknowledge the pain of the past and work towards a future of healing, reconciliation, and justice for all its residents, and that starts with reparations now.

is an artist, organizer and the founding executive director of Equity and Transformation (EAT), an organization dedicated to advancing social and economic equity for Black informal workers.