Black Wall Street & A Nation of Inequality Exposé by Isaac Phillips
After attending the Black Tax event hosted by King and Mar I’ve concluded that After 400 years in this country, black families hold a fraction of the wealth of white families. And that is due, in part, to what is referred to as the “black tax.” In the U.S. it can be described as a racial dimension that perpetuates a cycle of inequality such as lower pay and a lower standard of education. Where we have instances of triumphs when it comes to thriving communities like The “Black (Negro) Wall Street” which became a popular section of Greenwood Avenue in North Tulsa, Oklahoma during the early 20th century. The black tax has historically and critically set us back on the verge of equality and equity for many centuries. Because of harsh segregation rule, African Americans were only allowed to shop, spend, and live in a 35 square block area called the Greenwood district. The “circulation of Black dollars” black money as it’s called only in the Black community produced a tremendously prosperous Black business district that was admired, revered and envied by the whole country.
To reflect on the tragedy that bestridden this area we must first look back at the history of this wondrous location. Oklahoma’s first African-American settlers were Indian slaves of the so-called “Five Civilized Tribes”: Chickasaws, Choctaws, Cherokees, Creeks, and Seminoles. These tribes were forced to leave the Southeastern United States and resettle in Oklahoma in mid-winter over the infamous “Trail of Tears.” After the Civil War, U.S.-Indian treaties provided for slave liberation and land allotments ranging from 40-100 acres, which helps explain why over 6000 African-Americans lived in the Oklahoma territory by 1870. Oklahoma boasted more All-Black towns and communities than any other state in the land, and these communities opened their arms to freed slaves from all across the country. Remarkably, at one time, there were over 30 African-American newspapers in Oklahoma. There are many reasons why injustice and inequality has ridden our nation throughout our four-hundred year history but in order to gain levity on the situation we must first look at the history of Black Wall Street. Tulsa initially began as an outpost of the Creek Indians and as late as 1910, Walter White a notable member of the NAACP, described Tulsa as “the dead and hopeless home of 18,182 souls.” But suddenly, oil was discovered and Tulsa rapidly grew into a thriving, booming, bustling, enormously wealthy town of 73,000 by 1920 with big bank deposits totaling over $65 million. However, Tulsa was a “tale of two cities isolated and insular”, one Black and one White. Tulsa was so racist and segregated that it was the only city in America that boasted of segregated telephone booths proving the frantic state of our country, and the general inequality of our nation which remains today.
According to text from Freedom on my Mind, despite the fact that twenty-first-century African Americans still paid what was termed the black tax to be effective as a society African Americans at the time must have been willing to adapt. With the financial cost of conscious and unconscious anti-black discrimination, created massive financial burdens on Black American households which dramatically reduced their ability to leave a substantial legacy for future generations. However in some cities, African Americas were great to adapting to the situation and their surroundings as proven throughout our unjust history.. Since African Americans could neither live among Whites as equals nor could they even be bothered to patronize White businesses in Tulsa, African Americans had to develop a completely separate business district and community, which soon became something of legends. The Black dollars invested in the Black community also produced self-pride, self-sufficiency, and self-determination.
The vibrant business district, which begin at the intersection of Greenwood Avenue & Archer Street, became so successful and economically sound. Booker T. Washington even coined the term “Negro Wall Street.” And by 1921, Tulsa’s African-American population of 11,000 had its own bus line, two high schools, one hospital, two newspapers, two theaters, three drug stores, four hotels, a public library, and thirteen churches. In addition, there were over 150 two and three story brick commercial buildings that housed clothing and grocery stores, cafes, rooming houses, nightclubs, and a large number of professional offices including doctors, lawyers, and dentists. Tulsa’s progressive African American community boasted some of the city’s most elegant brick homes, well furnished with china, fine linens, beautiful furniture, and grand pianos. Mary Elizabeth Parrish from Rochester, New York wrote: “In the residential section there were homes of beauty and splendor which would please the most critical eye.” Well known African American personalities often visited the Greenwood district including: educators Mary McCloud Bethune and W.E.B. DuBois, scientist George Washington Carver, opera singer Marian Anderson, blues singer Dinah Washington, and noted Chicago chemist Percy Julian. T.P. Scott wrote in “Negro City Directory”: “Early African American business leaders in Tulsa patterned the development of Tulsa’s thriving Greenwood district after the successful African American entrepreneurial activity in Durham, North Carolina.”
There are many possible contributing factors to the raging inequality our people have faced throughout the centuries. After the Civil War, former slaves moved to Durham from the neighboring farmlands and found employment in tobacco processing plants. By 1900, a large Black middle class had developed which caused a boom in businesses that soon grew into phenomenally successful corporations, especially North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company. Charles Clinton Spaulding was so successful with the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company that he was able to create a real estate company, a textile and hosiery mill, and the “Durham Negro Observer” newspaper. Durham African Americans also created a hospital, Mechanics and Farmers Bank (1908), North Carolina Training College (1910), Banker’s Fire Insurance Company (1920), and the National Negro Finance Company (1922). However, living conditions in Durham were so substandard and working conditions so poor that the 1920 mortality rate among Blacks in Durham was three times higher than that of the White rate. As of 1926, 64% of all African Americans in Durham died before the age of 40. These perilous working and living conditions were not present in Tulsa.
To provide a metaphor if you will, fortune hunters encounter many difficulties when exploring a shipwreck but they must prevail to find the treasures.. When we look at the tragedy that struck Black Wall street we must look at how the domino’s proverbially fell. A 19 year old Black male accidentally stumbled on a jerky elevator and bumped the 17-year-old White elevator operator who screamed. The frightened young fellow was seen running from the elevator by a group of Whites and by late afternoon the “Tulsa Tribune” reported that the girl had been raped. Despite the girl’s denial of any wrongdoing, the boy was arrested and a large mob of 2000 White men came to the jail to lynch the prisoner. About 75 armed African Americans came to the jail to offer assistance to the sheriff to protect the prisoner. The sheriff not only refused the assistance but also deputized the White mob to disarm the Blacks. With a defenseless Black community before them, the White mob advanced to the Greenwood district where they first looted and then burned all Black businesses, homes, and churches. Any Black resisters were shot and thrown into the fires. When the National Guard arrived, they assisted the others by arresting all Black men, women, and children, and herding them into detention centers at the Baseball Park and Convention Hall. As many as 4,000 Blacks were held under armed guard in detention.
With a heavy heart, Dr. Arthur C. Jackson, a nationally renowned surgeon, called by the Mayo brothers (of Mayo Clinic fame) “the most able Negro surgeon in America”, was shot at the Convention Hall and allowed to bleed to death. The “Chicago Tribute” Newspaper reported that Whites also used private airplanes to drop kerosene and dynamite on Black homes. By the next morning the entire Greenwood district was leveled reduced to ashes and not one White was even accused of any wrongdoing, much less arrested. The race riot of Tulsa, Oklahoma were not an isolated event in American history. On May 28, 1917 a White mob in East St. Louis, Illinois of over 13,000, ravaged African American stores, homes, and churches. Eyewitnesses reported that over 100 Blacks were gunned down as they left their burning homes including a small Black child who was shot and thrown back into the burning building to die. Seven white police officers charged with murder by the Illinois Attorney General were collectively fined $150. During the “Red Summer” of 1919, over 25 race riots were recorded (white mobs attacking black neighborhoods).
As we’ve seen crime in poverty-stricken areas occurs as a result of a systemic discrimination and inequality is no different. In the 1919 race riot at Elaine, Arkansas, White mobs killed over 200 African Americans and burned their homes and businesses. Federal troops arrested hundreds of Blacks trying to protect their possessions and forcibly held them in basements of the city’s public schools. Twelve Blacks were indicted (no Whites) and convicted of inciting violence and sentenced to die. The NAACP persuaded the U.S. Supreme Count for the first time in history to reverse a racially biased southern court. The late Director John Singleton even exposed the horrors of the Rosewood, Florida massacre of 1922 in his film entitled “Rosewood”. A White mob burned down the entire town and tried to kill all of its Black inhabitants. In April 1994, the Florida legislature passed the “Rosewood Bill”, which awarded $150,000 to each of the riot’s nine eligible Black survivors.
Because of the inner workings of events such as the Tulsa Riots among other atrocities and the systemic Black Tax system, a colloquial reference to the extra work African Americans had to endure which kept African Americans from achieving the same goals as whites while also holding Blacks responsible for the behavior of black people collectively as the text and the event I attended referenced.. There were many setbacks. As a result of the Tulsa riot, the White inhabitants tried to buy the Black property and force Black people out of town. No Tulsa bank or lending institution would make loans in the riot-marred Greenwood district, and the city refused all outside assistance. However, racial pride and self-determination would not permit the Greenwood owners to sell, and they doggedly spent the entire winter in tents donated by the American Red Cross. Rebuilding was a testament to the courage and stamina of Tulsa’s pioneers in their struggle for freedom. Most of the buildings along the first block of Greenwood Avenue were rebuilt within one year. Henry Whitlow wrote: “A little over a decade after the riot, everything was more prosperous than before.” In 1926, W. E. B. DuBois visited Tulsa and wrote: “Black Tulsa is a happy city. It has new clothes. It is young and gay and strong. Five years ago, fire and blood and robbery leveled it to the ground. Scars are there, but the city is impudent and noisy. It believes in itself. Thank God for the grit of Black Tulsa.” Like Black Tulsa, African Americans can continue to survive by self-pride, self-help, and self-determination. Morale may be high but events such as the Tulsa Riots among other terrible atrocities inflicted on the Black Community has shown a fine line of inequality which helps propagate the mere fact that generational wealth for our community is nearly almost unattainable and until equity and retribution is provided we collectively must work together as a people and not against….
Isaac T Phillips
Comm Marketing Major
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