A story of black history that I have been fascinated by ever since I first learned of it is that of Black Wall Street. In the early 1900’s there was a town in Tulsa, Oklahoma known as Black Wall Street. This town was known as Black Wall Street despite the fact that Jim Crow laws were in full effect at this time. At the time the state of Oklahoma didn’t allow most blacks to vote, hold office, or serve on juries. In the thirteen years following Oklahoma’s statehood 26 black men and boys were lynched to advance and maintain white supremacy. Racial segregation was encoded in the law mandating separate residential areas for blacks and whites.
The reason the town was known as Black Wall Street because despite all of the state sponsored oppression the commercial district was highly prosperous. The town of Greenwood had two independent newspapers, two movie theaters, a number of churches, nightclubs, and several grocery stores. The community was served by black professionals including doctors, dentists, lawyers and clergy.
Unfortunately, Black Wall Street met a tragic end in what is known as the Tulsa race riot of 1921. When the son of a Greenwood resident was suspected of raping a young white woman black men from the community went to the courthouse to aid the sheriff in protecting the young man after a crowd of over 1,000 whites gathered to call for his lynching. The confrontation culminated in a gun battle at the courthouse that spread to the neighborhood of Greenwood. The national guard deployed to protect surrounding white areas and began taking blacks into custody who were outside of Greenwood and detaining them.
The white mob descended on Greenwood and began setting fires to bordering buildings and blockaded the fire department from getting to the fires to put them out. The mob eventually launched an all-out assault on the city shooting at anyone they encountered. In addition to the ground assault Greenwood was attacked by air when members of the mob began taking planes from the nearby airfield and firebombing the town. Any white family that employed black domestics was ordered to give them up or their homes would be vandalized. The estimated death toll was said to be 50 whites and between 150 and 200 blacks. The commercial district of Greenwood was destroyed which included 191 businesses, the hospital, churches, over 1,200 homes and a junior high school.
It is quite remarkable that in the midst of such overt and blatant oppression this black community was able to come together and build a prosperous community in the early 1900’s. Today there are studies that state that while other communities circulate money amongst themselves between 17 days and a month the black community only circulates money internally for about 6 hours. This means that today black people are quick to take their money, their economic power and deliver it to other communities at their own expense. This is important because it means money is not being spent to improve our communities be it in the form of infrastructure or employment opportunities. Economic empowerment is an essential element to improving the state of the black community but it requires not just being willing to patronize black owned businesses but providing quality goods and services for black consumers at fair prices. Already there are examples of this principle being put to use and it is very encouraging to see a greater realization about how beneficial this can be to the black community. It will not be too long until we see the rise of more Black Wall Streets.