The past year has brought renewed attention to the systemic racism embedded in so many institutions in American society, including those that we rely on to build wealth. There are few events more illustrative of the obstacles Black Americans have historically faced to accessing economic prosperity than the Tulsa Race Massacre of Despite economic and general segregation, Black Tulsans had built a prosperous business district in the Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, known as Black Wall Street.
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But a false allegation of assault made by a white woman against a Black man was enough to ignite a riot fueled by decades of economic jealousy that burned that thriving community to the ground. In a video that went viral last year on Instagram FB, Black Americans first arrived in what would become the state of Oklahoma during the s and s as part of the forced migration of Native American tribes to the area.
The five tribes that traveled to Oklahoma as part of the Trail of Tears owned Black slaves, intermarried with the Black community and also counted some freedman among their members. Following the Civil War, the Black members of these communities became formal members of these tribes in most cases. Eventually, the federal government got rid of tribal sovereignty and in exchange allotted individual members of the tribes plots of land.
The Black members of these tribes in Oklahoma received land too. The Greenwood community, Black Wall Street, was a community borne of necessity. After the man was arrested, crowds gathered outside the courthouse where he was being held.
Black Greenwood residents, worried about his safety in an era of frequent lynchings, came armed to protect him. A white man tried to disarm one of the Black men, a scuffle ensued, then a shot rang out.
That experience was a counterpoint to the promise made by white and Black boosters of a self-help philosophy, who argued that Black Americans could achieve the power they were unable to access through the political and legal system, simply by becoming prosperous, Baradaran said. Evidence indicates that police not only failed to stop the destruction of Black Wall Street, but also participated in it. In addition, Black residents of Greenwood were unable to get any insurance payouts to compensate for property damage as a result of the violence.
Eventually, the motivations undergirding the events like the Tulsa massacre became coded into law, Baradaran said.
In the years immediately following the Tulsa Race Massacre, the residents of Greenwood who remained were able to rebuild Black Wall Street. Integration, which provided Black Tulsans the opportunity to shop in the white community, but also took money outside of the Black community, also played a role in the decline of Black Wall Street, Johnson said.
These efforts have ramped up in the past few years in the lead up to the th anniversary of the violence.
Last year, the city announced a plan to excavate a small area of a Tulsa cemetery to look for evidence of a mass grave. Last year, the state also required public schools to teach students about the massacre and the history of the neighborhood it destroyed.
Kavin Ross, a photojournalist for the Greenwood Tribune, told MarketWatch last year that he worried a planned visit by then-President Donald Trump to Tulsa as part of a campaign event during the weekend of Juneteenth, a day that commemorates the freeing of Black slaves following the Civil War, could erode some of that progress.
Still, he was hopeful the spotlight could help further his cause. Don Ross introduced the bill that required the state to commission a study of the massacre; the ensuing report recommended that survivors of the violence and their descendents be paid reparations. This year it seems that hope is closer to coming to fruition.
Jillian Berman covers student debt and millennial finance. You can follow her on Twitter JillianBerman. Economic Calendar Coronavirus Recovery Tracker.
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