Black Wall Streets

The centennial of the destruction of Tulsa’s Greenwood district, known as “Black Wall Street,” has got me thinking about other Black Wall Streets that once existed in the U.S. — places where black entrepreneurs could find success more easily, places where African Americans could accumulate wealth. What happened to them?

Richmond, Virginia, had Jackson Ward, another Black Wall Street, a locus for black-owned businesses. In the 1950s, urban renewal — a turnpike cut through the middle of the neighborhood — was a major factor in destroying Jackson Ward as an economic center.

The Hayti neighborhood of Durham, North Carolina, is considered a Black Wall Street. Although much of the financial growth was driven by a couple of large black-owned businesses, the neighborhood launched a significant number of African Americans into the middle class. In the 1960s, it was destroyed by an urban renewal scheme.

The Fifteenth Ward of Syracuse, N.Y., was a Black Wall Street. Guess what killed off the Fifteenth Ward? If you guessed “urban renewal,” you guessed correctly.

What killed these Black Wall Streets? White mob violence (with the connivance of local government and even the National Guard) in Tulsa — government-decreed urban renewal in Richmond and Durham. The methods might have changed, but the outcome was the same, thus demonstrating yet again that capitalism in the U.S. gives preference to certain classes of people, while blocking others from achieving wealth through entrepreneurship.

In a number of places, local groups are starting their own initiatives to promote black entrepreneurship. I did quick Web search and turned up Black Wall Street organizations in St. Louis, Mo., Asheville, N.C., and Kalamazoo, Mich. There are other organizations that don’t use the “Black Wall Street” name, but promote a similar ethic, such as Black-Owned Brooklyn.

Many of us are skeptical of capitalism these days; there’s a growing suspicion that systemic racism may actually be a core part of capitalism’s feature set. Nevertheless, capitalism and entrepreneurship are just about the only way to get into the middle class these days. That being the case, maybe the best way to memorialize the demise of Tulsa’s Black Wall Street is to do business with local black-owned businesses.

Except that Amazon has eviscerated local retail business, Big Tech is degrading local businesses into the gig economy, banking and insurance and manufacturing are dominated by huge multinational white-owned companies which have destroyed local businesses…the methods keep changing, but somehow many African Americans still find themselves shut out of the middle class. As Mariahdessa Ekere Tallie puts it in her poem “Global Warming Blues”:

seem like for Big Men’s living
little folks has got to die.