Can Black Wall Street be Resurrected? Part I
Updated: Apr 8, 2020
In our present time and place white supremacists feel the need to dismiss centuries of generational racism. White Supremacy is defined by the belief that whiteness and people who believe themselves to be white are inherently superior to all other racial groups. White supremacists utilize this alleged racial authority to repeatedly unleash anger and frustration on minorities.
In the 1896 Plessy vs. Ferguson case, the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of “separate but equal” which relegated recently freed slaves to an existence inferior to whites. Grade school and college institutions were segregated as were the prison, hospital, and orphanage systems. Public water fountains were segregated as well as public restrooms. African Americans were not allowed to occupy any space suggesting that blacks were equal or above whites. There were direct economic effects as well. For example, many blacks could not find employment while labor unions developed policies in favor of excluding them. The law also ordered business owners and public institutions to keep their black and white clientele separated and forbade interracial marriage. This schism marked the beginning of segregation, the Jim Crow era.
Blacks have endured the effects of these laws and actions ever since. Rather than facing the truth of systematic oppression, white supremacists deflect legitimate claims of frustration from historic racialized oppression and suggest that black people are out of touch with reality.
In spite the racially separatist landscape, Black Americans found innovative ways to succeed in America. One of Tulsa’s most prominent Pioneers, O.W. Gurley purchased forty acres of land and sold it to African Americans fleeing from southern states. By 1907, Oklahoma had quite the economic appeal as it was discovered to be rich in oil deposits. Many blacks were attracted to the possibilities that Oklahoma offered because it provided African Americans a chance at economic prosperity and an opportunity to get away from the exploitive southern states. To this point, a heavy concentration of black folks in Greenwood Oklahoma led to it being called “Little Africa”. Greenwood Avenue was where the offices of almost all of Tulsa’s black lawyers, realtors, doctors, and other professionals were located. Greenwood also featured two published newspapers, the Tulsa Star and the Oklahoma Sun, which covered not only Tulsa, but also state and national news and elections.
The greenwood district thrived although the country was still suffering from a failed reconstruction and furiously endorsing Jim Crow laws. By the year 1921, the area was populated with between 10,000-100,000 African Americans. Consequently, the Klu Klux Klan had increased in membership at approximately 2,000-3,000 members in Tulsa Oklahoma.
By this time, African American had implemented a system that circulated money back to the community. Many black entrepreneurs circulated the money approximately 10 times within the community before spending elsewhere. As a result, white supremacist became so envious of the progressive black community, like that of Greenwood, that they devised a plan to permanently disrupt a then thriving black wall street. On May 29th, 1921, the incident that lit the torch occurred in a public elevator of the Drexel building. A 19-year-old black male named, Dick Roland, was on his way to the restroom on the top floor of the building. While entering the elevator, he accidentally lost his footing. Roland reached out touching the elevator operator while trying to break his fall. The elevator operator happened to be a 17-year-old white female named Sarah Page. Roland was arrested at 10 am that morning. Later, the fabricated version of the story broke, and the promoting of a lynching circled amongst the white members of the community i.e. residents, law enforcement, and the Klu Klux Klan. Roland was taken from the jail, hung, and shot multiple times. Lynching was not considered a crime in Oklahoma and officers were not made responsible for releasing prisoners to lynch mobs with the intention of committing murder. A riot erupted resulting in the fall of what was once known as Black wall street. White supremacists have continuously demonstrated their inability to refrain from unjust interruption of Black prosperity. White supremacists have demonstrated a pattern of constructing dramatically misleading narratives to criminalize or discredit their target. For Example, in 1968, the war on drugs was designed to negatively impact black communities from rising again.
White Supremacy still rules the day. Much like they were excluded from labor union policies so many years ago, Blacks are still widely marginalized and excluded from the possibility of prospering in the American economy. Due to the many traumatic historic occurrences, I pose these few questions. Can Black Wall Street rise again? Is it possible to have a Black economy in America without dependence upon the white community?
Jai.Got.Soul is a freelance writer and activist whose interest include Black Liberation, Black Unity, and Social Movements in America. Jai.Got.Soul utilizes the gift of writing to bring about awareness to complex issues that currently affect Black lives. The goal for Jai.Got. soul’s readers is to spark conversations about controversial topics thus creating a creative space for effective problem solving.
Written By: Jessica McConico
Edited by: Dr. Justin Clardy