At the turn of the century, Blacks prospered throughout America. Because they could not shop nor do business in the white community, they built their own business districts where Black dollars circulated throughout the Black Community.
On May 32, 1921, the fortunes for these Africans would change forever. A Black man was accused of raping a white woman. This touch off a revolt that has not been repeated in American history.
This story of thousands dead, even more homeless and a community in ruins has been curiously left out of the history books. Nearly 100 years ago Black America’s most prosperous community, Black Wall Street located in Tulsa, Oklahoma, went up in flames on June 1, 1921, in the KKK-led Tulsa Race Riot. It was one of the worst incidents of violence ever visited upon people of African descent. So determined were whites in Tulsa to wipe out all evidence of Blacks’ prosperity and achievement they used airplanes to firebomb Black Wall Street from the air.
Black Wall Street was the most prosperous Black community in America during the 1920’s. It was given the name because of the power of Black wealth and entrepreneurship in the community. After the oil boom of the 1910s “Black Wall Street” was home to prominent Black businessmen, educators and entrepreneurs, many of them multimillionaires. In response to Jim Crow laws Blacks created their own community of businesses that spanned 35 blocks and served every need imaginable within their community.
A variety of businesses erected during this time, including 2 movie theaters, 30 grocery stores, several law and doctors offices, a post office, private planes and even a self-contained bus system. In this community the dollar circulated 36 to 100 times, sometimes taking a year for currency to leave the community. (Now a dollar leaves the Black community in 6 hours). The vision of Black Wall Street was not only to build a self-sustaining community, but to build a system for the cycle of success with following generations. The motto of the community was “To educate every child”.
The assault on Black Wall Street was said to begin after a young Black man (19 years of age) was accused of assaulting a young White woman. Following his arrest, Blacks stormed the police station demanding to have fair treatment of the detained Black man. A group of whites, many belonging to the Ku Klux Klan, also began to gather outside and a fight ensued between the two groups.
What started as a fight amongst a few dozen people quickly spread as the Blacks, most of who had recently been released from World War I, gained advantage over many of the Whites. Whites quickly began to seek more armor and headed to the Black Wall Street district, shooting and burning everything in sight. After hours of turmoil planes hovered over the city dropping bombs onto thousands of businesses and homes. Over the course of 16 hours thousands of African Americans lost their lives, 800 people were admitted to local hospitals with injuries, and an estimated 10,000 were left homeless. Lost forever were over 600 successful businesses, including 21 churches, 21 restaurants, 30 grocery stores, two movie theaters, a hospital, a bank, a post office, libraries, schools, law offices, a half dozen private airplanes and a bus system. What became of this wreckage was a broken community.
To this day no restitutions have been made and this story has been omitted from the history books. We felt compelled to tell this story to show the prominence and talent our community showed over 90 years ago. The question remains that if we were able to rise to the top during one of the most discriminatory periods of our time then what is stopping us from rebuilding Black Wall Street. We must remember that the key to building community wealth is recirculating our dollars which will result in job creation, a stronger educational system and capital that can continue to be reinvested in our community.
“Why Did It Happen”
The riots weren’t caused by anything Black or White. It was caused by jealousy. A lot of white folks had come back from World War 1 and they were poor. When they looked over into the Black communities and realized that the Black men who fought in the war had come home heroes, this helped trigger the destruction. It cost the Black community everything, and not a single dime of restitution–no insurance claims– have been awarded to the victims to this day.
None the less, they rebuilt. We estimate that 1,500 to 3,00 people were killed and we know that a lot of the bodies were buried in mass graves all around the city. Some were dumped in the river. As a matter of fact, at 21st street and Yale Avenue, where there now stands a Sears parking lot, that corner used to be a Coalmine. They threw a lot of the bodies into the shafts. Black American don’t know about this story because we don’t the word Holocaust to our struggle. Jewish people use the word, holocaust. It’s politically correct to use it. But when we Black folks use the H word, people think we’re being crybabies or that we’re trying to bring up old issues. No one comes to our support. In 1910, our forefathers and mothers owned 13 million acres of land at the height of racism in this country, so the Black Wall Street book prove the nay sayers and revisionists that we had our act together. Our mandate now is to begin to teach our children about our own ongoing Black holocaust. They have to know when they look at our communities today that we don’t come from this.
Key Things we can do to recreate Black Wallstreet Consciously circulate our dollars – We need to make a conscious effort to support local businesses. Those tax dollars allow us to rebuild our community, employ the community and build a system of wealth that can be reinvested in our community. Educate every child – This was the motto in 1921 for Black Wall Street and emphasis needs to be placed back on the importance of education, not even just our own children but everyone’s children. Our philosophy needs to be “No child left Behind” as we help those that appear to be lagging behind.
Build a diverse group of businesses – A key to the success of Black Wall Street was that there were a variety of services offered to the community, enough so that you DID NOT HAVE TO LEAVE THE COMMUNITY, to buy a product or service. Like Black Wall Street we need more community owned banks, grocery stores, and doctors’ offices. The more diverse our own community is, the less likely we will have to leave the community.
Treat each other with mutual respect– We have lost the idea of “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you”. During Black Wallstreet it was not unusual that if a resident’s home burned down, it could be rebuilt within a few weeks by neighbors. It’s time to get back to supporting everyone in the community.