Subscribe Twitter

Thursday, March 10, 2011

An Oklahoma gem hidden from the history books

By Samson
The story of thousands killed in an act of terrorism on American soil changed the lives of an entire people. In one fell swoop, a statuesque financial institution was reduced to ashes and rubble, the bodies of men, women and children along with it. While the September 11th attacks shook this great nation to its core, the story I’m referencing happened 80 years before 9/11 and hasn’t been mentioned in any textbook I’ve ever read.
Now if 9/11 came to mind when I described the story above, no one could blame you, but we already know the story behind those attacks. The history lesson I’m imparting today claimed more lives than 9/11, crippled an internationally established financial system and was a mini holocaust of black people in the United States that you would never know about unless you researched it on your own.
Black Wallstreet, also referred to as The Negro Wallstreet or “Little Africa,” was one of the wealthiest black communities America had ever seen, set in Tulsa, Oklahoma at the turn of the 20th century. I’m not talking PG County wealthy, they’re “rich” over there, but Black Wallstreet was one of the most unique institutions I’ve had the pleasure of learning about.
Because blacks were far from equal citizens during the Jim Crow era, they often weren’t allowed to patronize the businesses of whites. As a result this community sprung up in Oklahoma so that blacks could function and thrive. Blacks owned the infrastructure in this community, which included over 600 businesses and 36 square blocks. I’m talking doctor and lawyer offices, medical schools, a bus system, two movie theatres, a hospital, post office and a multitude of restaurants, shops and other businesses—all black-owned. In fact, Oklahoma had only two airports at this time in the entire state, yet six blacks in this particular community owned airplanes. The community also published its own newspaper that reported local, state and national news.
A 2002 study showed that blacks, who made up 12% of the country’s population, spent $38 billion on clothes, electronics and furniture. In the Black Wallstreet community, the dollar circulated often, but only left that community up to once per year. It was a community of black people earning money, creating jobs, educating and providing for each other, with all of the money staying within their own community. Power doesn’t even begin to describe it.

They didn’t blame or rely on the “white man”--they had a serious need and provided for it. And let’s be real, we have some grounds to complain about not always getting our fair shake today, but in the early 1900’s, blacks were being lynched like nobody’s business and the word “nigger” was printed in newspapers as if it were fact. The eras don’t compare, but even facing those circumstances, they created a titan of a community and supported each other. A community of blacks did what people of African descent have done in America for years, turning the worst possible circumstances into a positive. In this case, they broke out of the system that hated them and created their own system, built on education and business and supported each other. It was beautiful.

On June 1, 1921, however, the attacks which should forever live in infamy occurred. Jealousy reared its ugly, and in this case, fatal head. The Ku Klux Klan lead an attack on the community, bombing it from the air and attacking from the ground, as many whites from neighboring towns looked on or participated. Remember the 9/11 reference earlier? Some 2,700 died in the World Trade Center attacks. In the Black Wallstreet attacks, 3,000 people (all black) were killed, and hundreds of businesses destroyed—all in less than 12 hours.

I’m not going to spell out the reason we’ve all probably never heard of this incident, because I think it goes without saying. This is a story that all Americans should know, because like the old adage says, if you don’t know your history, you’re doomed to repeat it. Every black American should know this story and teach it to their children, so that they understand that anything is possible through education and hard work. That if you come upon success, you should create opportunities for your family so that they don’t have to ask for anything from anyone. Africans, Asians and Indians come to our country and set up these types of communities, because they don’t want to rely on the system to provide for them. There’s nothing stopping other American born citizens from doing the same.

I mean, think about it. Imagine living in New York City and not worrying about a cab driver giving you a ride, because the taxi fleet is owned by a brother who noticed that discrimination was happening and started his own company. Scratch that. Imagine not having to worry about how your “blackness” is perceived when you’re in Bank of America trying to get a loan to buy a house, because you didn’t bother going to Bank of America at all. Instead, you go to the black owned bank your friend told you about and take out a loan with them. That’s power.

The story of Black Wallstreet is bittersweet to me. I’m proud to hear about such an affluent black community that was created based on sheer will and need, while at the same time saddened that we never got to see how the community, which conducted global business only a few decades removed from slavery could have thrived today if it wasn’t cut short.


Post a Comment