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A solid foundation: Can we rebuild Black Wall Street?

JAMES CLINGMAN | 8/22/2016, 11:05 a.m.
“There are [Blacks] who are willing to worship the pyramids of 4,000 years ago but will not build pyramids in ...
James Clingman

“There are [Blacks] who are willing to worship the pyramids of 4,000 years ago but will not build pyramids in the present so their children may see what they left behind as well. We have a leadership who rallies the people to look at past glories but leave their children neglected; who will make great analytical and oratorical dissertations on the inadequacies of Eurocentric education and yet will not contribute one penny of their money or their time to the construction of their own schools.” – Amos Wilson, Afrikan Centered Consciousness versus the New World Order

(George Curry Media) – Montoya Smith, host of the Atlanta talk show, Mental Dialogue, asked: Can we rebuild Black Wall Street? “No, really,” he added, recognizing the depth of his question and assuring folks he was not kidding or just being rhetorical.

So, what was Black Wall Street? Most of what I have learned about it was obtained from a book by John Sibley Butler titled Entrepreneurship and Self-Help Among Black Americans, A Reconsideration of Race and Economics, which contains an exhaustive section on Tulsa, Oklahoma’s history and a detailed account of what took place in its Greenwood District. Some of the information below comes from Butler’s book. I also learned from face-to-face conversations with six of the survivors of the Tulsa Riot.

Black Wall Street was burned to the ground in 1921 by a White mob. The Greenwood District, located in the northern section of Tulsa, was once called “Negro Wall Street” and “Little Africa.” It was home to hundreds of Black-owned businesses and sat on valuable land desired by White oil speculators, who even tried to buy parcels of that land from Blacks for 10 cents on the dollar immediately following the Tulsa riot. Fortunately, and wisely, Blacks refused to sell.

Despite hundreds of Black lives lost in the riot and all of Greenwood’s businesses destroyed, the story of that economic enclave during the ensuing 17 years was one of triumph over tragedy. By 1923, as a result of Blacks pooling their money to capitalize new enterprises, the Black business district was even larger than before, and Greenwood was completely restored by Black people by 1938. Ultimately, urban renewal and integration, which allowed Blacks to shop at non-Black stores, led to the demise of “Black Wall Street.”

To Amos Wilson’s point, Greenwood was a pyramid built by Blacks in the early 1900s. Instead of looking back and merely reveling in the successes of Mound Bayou, Mississippi, and other enclaves that came before them, Black people in Greenwood built upon those legacies. Thus, my answer to the question posed by Montoya Smith, “Can we rebuild Black Wall Street?” was and is an emphatic and unequivocal, “Yes!”

My answer to that question is based on our having done it before under far worse circumstances than today. But as I listened to the other guest on Montoya’s show, Jay West, entrepreneur and president of the Lithonia Small Business and Merchants Association, located on the outskirts of Atlanta, I became even more convinced.