By Susan Berfield and Jordyn Holman

May 28, 2021

…That June, the City Council passed a sweeping resolution calling for the end of structural racism and a commitment to racial equity. It didn’t say much about how, and it didn’t say anything about reparations. Then, on June 19—Juneteenth, the holiday commemorating the end of slavery—the House of Representatives held hearings on H.R. 40, the first such session in a decade. The writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, who’d brought the issue back to national attention in 2014 with his Atlantic magazine cover story “The Case for Reparations,” argued that America had a chance “to say that a nation is both its credits and its debits.” The actor and activist Danny Glover said his great-grandmother had been enslaved, his grandparents had been sharecroppers, and national reparations was “a moral, democratic, and economic imperative.”

William Darity, a professor of public policy at Duke University who studies the economics of reparations, told the New York Times he’d never been more optimistic about the prospect of comprehensive reparations. Darity and others argue that reparations should, at the least, close the racial wealth gap, which has persisted for generations so that now White families typically are seven times wealthier than Black families. Reparations on that scale, hundreds of thousands of dollars for each eligible African American, would cost trillions of dollars for all. That can come only from the federal government.

Rue Simmons was thinking about what reparations could look like for a city. She saw the big promise of national reparations and the smaller possibilities of local redress, but she didn’t imagine a conflict between the two.