From DE's files: An interview with Jerome Summers

Updated: Jun 24

In April 2018, I talked with lifelong Evanston resident Jerome Summers about growing up Black in Evanston.

With discussions about Evanston's reparations initiative that will first focus on homebuyer assistance (and how that will work), and many Evanston residents calling for a redistribution of City funds from the Evanston Police Department to groups and organizations that focus on homelessness, education, and mental health services, I hope you'll learn just a little bit of Evanston's history from our conversation.


At last night's City Council meeting, Ald. Melissa Wynne, 3rd, talked about the fact that so few white residents know anything about Evanston's history--about how it (and almost all communities throughout the country) redlined Black residents prohibiting them from living wherever they wanted, creating Evanston's historic 5th ward, segregating and then desegregating schools, and the effects of all these racist actions on the Black community then ... and now.


There is no excuse to stay ignorant of Evanston's history. It is incumbent on every white resident to learn about it and then commit to working in ways large and small to repair the past harm that has pushed so many Black Evanstonians out of the city in which they were born because they can't afford to purchase a home here, that has disenfranchised so many Black residents in so many ways, and that has enabled the vast majority of Evanston's white residents to live privileged, safe, and comfortable lives here.


Things you can do


  • Shorefront Legacy Center. If you're not familiar with Shorefront Legacy Center, founded by Dino Robinson -- get to know it. Dino has worked tirelessly to archive Black history--artifacts and stories--in Evanston and along the north shore.


Dino Robinson
  • Undesign the Redline. When the Evanston Public Library reopens, take time to go through the Undesign the Redline exhibit currently housed there. The exhibit was on display last August at the Civic Center. It's a must-see for every Evanston resident who wants to understand our city's--and our country's--history of intentional and systemic housing segregation and its dire results that continue today. The interactive exhibit explores the history of structural racism and classism, how these designs compounded each other from 1938 Redlining maps until today, and how we can come together to undesign these systems with intentionality. Dino Robinson personalized the exhibit to Evanston's history of redlining by adding panels that tell Evanston's specific story.


[Photo cred: Daily Northwestern]


  • Head to Dear Evanston's You Tube channel and peruse this website for all the interviews I've done over the past four years, many of them with Black Evanstonians, young and old, who have generously shared their experiences and memories.


  • Keep up with developments regarding Evanston's reparations initiative by joining the Evanston Reparations/Solutions Only FB page, follow the reparations subcommittee's website, and donate to Evanston's reparations fund.


  • Check out OPAL, which works for equity in Evanston government and schools.



Books to read




  • Redlined, by Linda Gartz, her personal story told through the lives of her Chicago family, which probes the invisible web of oppression that affected both whites and blacks.


In the meantime, take half an hour this evening and listen to Jerome tell his story.

For a transcript of our chat, click here.


OH! And you can read Jerome's beautiful book Parables from the Outskirts of Polite Society. (another DE book group pick). He's a master storyteller!




And here's Jerome talking about Foster School and what the Black community lost when it closed.



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