A group of community organizers met at the University of Chicago last Tuesday and “urged” the school to “make amends” for its past ties to slavery.
The National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America, or N’COBRA, held a “Rally for Reparations” outside the campus’s main administrative building, followed by a press conference at City Hall where it presented a letter “demanding reparatory justice.”
The Chicago Maroon reports N’COBRA was joined by the Reparations at UChicago Working Group, whose research concluded the university should pay restitution due to its ties to 19th century politician Stephen Douglas.
Douglas’s land grant to the original university was “bankrolled by profits from his slave plantation.”
“The University of Chicago is founded by slaveholders and the labor of enslaved people can actually be traced through the years,” said Guy Emerson Mount, one of researchers. “The labor of enslaved people actually translates into buildings, endowments, and real hard material resources.”
Representatives from several student activist groups spoke at the rally. “Reparations is fundamentally a labor issue,” said Jack Dragu, an organizer with the Solidarity Committee for Graduate Students United (GSU). “We are talking about an institution that continues to displace and exploit people and that was founded on free slave labor.”
The RAUC and UChicago for a Community Benefits Agreement (UC for a CBA) both advocated for the installation of a permanent CBA to keep the Hyde Park community involved in changes that happen to the neighborhood as a means of reparations. A CBA is a contract between a real estate developer and community groups that requires the developer to provide certain amenities to the community.
“One of things we’re asking for is a CBA from the University and Obama Foundation as a sort of preemptive reparations that would offset the harm we know is going to come,” Mount said, referring to the University’s involvement with the construction of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park. “A permanent CBA would mean the community shouldn’t have to fight this fight every time something’s getting built.”
“The University has played a role in changing the racial structure of not only Hyde Park but the Woodlawn community,” Howard told The Maroon. “Historically, a lot of black wealth was built in this area, and that’s being totally usurped…. We would like to see things like more affordable housing to prevent that.”
N’COBRA and the Working Group also want the university to establish a “truth and reconciliation committee,” and for the city to “discontinue any current and future contracts” with the school until it agrees to their demands.