A deeper dive into the call for reparations for the black community in South Bend

NOW: A deeper dive into the call for reparations for the black community in South Bend

SOUTH BEND, Ind., --- Although the call for restorative justice is not unique to South Bend, the city’s story behind it is. Leaders spearheading the movement say the black community has endured a painful past in this city, from being denied housing, to being forced to live in the most undesirable part of South Bend. However, they believe now is the time to work together towards making a wrong right and start the healing process.

“It's going to take an intentional and well-designed intervention to remediate, you know, all of the harm that's been caused for decades,” said Jorden Giger, the Co-Founder of BLM South Bend.

For far too long local leaders like Black Lives Matter co-ounder Giger say African American communities have been neglected in South Bend.

Giger has joined a new movement alongside Second District Common Councilman Henry Davis Jr. calling on the city for reparations, but more importantly a path towards healing in the communities they believe never had a fair chance.

 “…if you look at every socio-economic indicator, black people are at the bottom,” said Giger.

 “African Americans deserve to be a priority of the city, just like any other demographic within the City of South Bend. We are taxpayers, we're citizens. We're mothers or fathers. We're all of those everything else that everyone else is,” added Henry Davis, Jr.

Davis Jr. and Giger both say the push for reparatory justice in South Bend started in April of 2022, after a study conducted by the private consulting firm Urban Three revealed racist bank redlining practices in the city, refusing to write mortgages in mostly black neighborhoods and detrimental divestment in those same communities for decades.

 “…property didn't accrue in value, you know, the, in the same way, where exactly the same domicile the same structure in one part of town versus a second part, another part of town, you know, you see a price differential of like, close to $40,000, on the national average, and South Bend kind of mirrors that,” said Dr. Darryl Heller the Director at Indiana University South Bend Civil Rights Heritage Center

A redlining exhibit on display at the St. Joseph County Public Library late last year shed light on how the tactic was heavily used at the turn of the 20th century to deter mostly black families from buying homes outside an area known as the “Black Belt” essentially binding them to undesirable parts of the city, mostly on the west side of south bend.

A part of the city Davis Jr. believes was left behind.

“The accommodations for quality of life for African Americans have been very low. You don't see a lot of grocery stores, banks. We don't see a lot of schools that are open to our children,” said Davis Jr.

“Black folks were relegated to the least desirable parts of the city, parts of the cities that were the most toxic, and had the fewest, you know, accesses to the resources,” added Heller.

Dr. Heller, a historian and the director of the Civil Rights Heritage Center says redlining did a lot more than force segregation on the west side.

According to a recent study by Prosperity Now on the racial wealth divide in South Bend, the average median household income for black families is around $21,242, nearly half the number for the average white family.

Black home ownership rates mirror are similar, sitting at just 35% percent in South Bend, that number even below the national average of about 43% for black Americans.

 “When you begin limiting housing, you also limit education, you make healthcare, issues, much more prominent economic opportunities and upward mobility, being able to create intergenerational wealth to pass on to children, all of those who are impacted,” explained Heller.

Despite a number of Black owned businesses getting their start on the west side in middle of the 20th century, only a couple are left standing today.

Leaders say those devastating effects of racist practices continue to haunt black residents now, with folks still living in communities plagued by violence and living in rundown homes.

“We are trying to move past that there is contamination out here and it has been for decades. We deserve better than that we deserve again, to be a part of a realistic viewpoint of what the city can do and should do for its residents just like we see on the east side of the river,” said Davis Jr.

For both Giger and Davis Jr., who are spearheading the Common Council reparations resolution is personal for west side natives.

 “My great grandfather lived in an area where only black folks could live, essentially, they were restricted from moving to other parts of the city, and then they work jobs where they weren't, you know, paid fairly…you know, opportunities weren't like widely available to us as they were for for other folks,” said Giger.

Redlining practices and even the idea of reparatory justice brought to the South Bend Common Council at the beginning of 2023 isn’t just a concept unique to this city.

It’s part of a national movement involving more than 190 organizations thanks to a reparation bill re-introduced by New Jersey Senator Cory Booker this year.

South Bend’s resolution doesn’t ask for cash payments, instead it calls for the use of Federal American Rescue Plan dollars to invest in affordable housing, mental health counseling, medical services and job training to help more residents climb the ladder of economic success, combat violence and right long-ignored historical wrongs.

The resolution also calls for this hurtful part of black history to be taught in South Bend schools and a formal apology to be issued to black residents of the neighborhood.

“I don't think you've done true reparations or true restorative justice without that recognition, without that apology, and that's, that's critical. But it's not enough,” explained Heller. “It’s not about blaming white people, and particularly individual or personal white people. But it's a structure that has benefited white supremacy and being white given has given people an advantage that black people didn't have and, that's just a reality, not a moral statement.”

Although the resolution has sparked some controversy among city leaders, those spearheading the effort told ABC57 it’s sparked excitement from the black community.

 “People are celebrating it. There's a lot of energy to help support the idea of reparations. I think we need to really spell that out,” said Davis Jr.

Most importantly leaders say the resolution is a way to get the conversation started, with the community impacted most at the center of it.

These past injustices serving as a stark reminder of the harsh history faced by the black citizens in South Bend, with hope that the reparatory resolution will foster a collaborative effort to begin the process of healing.

 “For a long time, forever, really, decisions have been made about us without us, and so this is bringing us to the table because we're building the table,” added Giger.

The resolution is still being looked at by the common council. However, council president Sharon McBride announcing at the beginning of Feburary they’re planning to form a special committee which Dr. Heller will chair to advance racial justice and equality South Bend.

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