Updated: Jan 13
Culture Spotlight: Black Wall Street
As we reflect on our ancestors and forefathers who paved the way for us, this month especially, I feel it is important that we take a moment to recognize Greenwood, Oklahoma a suburb outside of Tulsa and their impact on history that is rarely told. During the early 1900’s many African American’s began moving west in search of new opportunities and a better quality life in the post slavery era. Lynchings, segregation and racism made it hard for almost every African American to get ahead in the south.
The Midwest however provided an opportunity for hope; more specifically Tulsa, Oklahoma experienced an oil boom in the early 1900’s. Many prominent black businessmen capitalized on this opportunity, O.W. Gurley (land owner) and J.B Stratford (entrepreneur) to name a few. This business mindset was embodied by many of the blacks who moved to greenwood during the next 20 years. As a result, the city of Greenwood flourished with black businesses all throughout. Many families began migrating to the area and were able to make a living for themselves. This was a self made community for us by us; from this the name Black Wall Street emerged. Greenwood had over 150 black owned businesses which included grocery stores, barbershops, clothing stores, hospitals, restaurants, schools, hotels, movie theaters, banks and many more! By 1921 it was home to more than 10,000 African Americans.
As Black Wall Street thrived, tensions arose from the neighboring whites whose financial situation was worse than their black neighbors. This didn't sit well with them and as a result false criminal allegations against a Greenwood black man arose. These allegations would serve as a catalyst for the riots which ensued shortly after. Race riots thus spurned out of control and the city was set ablaze in June of 1921, destroying many of the homes and businesses. The riot left hundreds of African Americans dead and over 9,000 homeless.
However I am not here today to acknowledge the atrocities and heinous murders that the Ku Klux Klan and other white law enforcement/townsmen committed during the riots. Rather, it’s important that we take this snapshot off Greenwood and use this as a model for today. Entrepreneurship was at the root of their success and investing in their own resources/businesses helped their community thrive to prominence in the early 1900’s. Businesses supported each other, the dollar would often times circle through the community 35 to 50 times before it left the city of Greenwood if it did at all.
Today the dollar leaves the black community in a matter of hours. With over a trillion dollars in annual buying power it is important that we as a community take the time to invest in black businesses as often as we can. I challenge everyone reading this to buy 5-7 products from black owned businesses per month! This is a small step in solving the racial inequalities that have plagued our country since its foundation. The key to change is doing everything you can within your scope of power; if everyone took this responsibility we would surely see the difference. As you embark on your goals I encourage each of you to use Black Wall Street as inspiration in achieving all of your future endeavors!
- Malcolm Mallory