“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”
Montoya Smith, host of the Atlanta talk show “Mental Dialogue,” asked, “Can we rebuild Black Wall Street?”
So, what was “Black Wall Street?” A book by John Sibley Butler titled “Entrepreneurship and Self-Help Among Black Americans, A Reconsideration of Race and Economics” contains an exhaustive section on Tulsa, Oklahoma’s history and a detailed account of what took place in its Greenwood District. I also learned from face-to-face conversations with six of the survivors of the Tulsa Riot.
Destroyed by Whites
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 ten 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, Miss., 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 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 – a city that is approximately 85 percent Black – I became even more convinced.
Jay West understands and promotes local business support. He explained, “I do 95 percent of my shopping right here in Lithonia because I know that one dollar spent here has the multiplier effect of three dollars, as our businesses support one another.”
West is absolutely correct, and the Lithonia merchants’ association will benefit collectively and individually from circulating their dollars; they will grow their businesses and create more jobs.
This nascent organization can be the model from which new Black Wall Streets can be built across this nation; it is on track to encourage more entrepreneurship and demonstrate the power of a cohesive, mutually supportive, self- directed, and economically empowered network of conscious business owners and consumers who are committed to growth and sustainability.
True partnerships between educated consumers and business professionals in Black economic enclaves comprise the basis for real power in the marketplace, i.e. collective purchasing programs and affinity groups, revolving loan funds, business equity funds, and financial leverage to stimulate future growth.
Lithonia is in that space right now, and there is plenty of room for more cities and segments within those cities to do the same. With leaders like Jay West and others in the Atlanta area, I am confident that pyramid will be built.
James E. Clingman is the nation’s most prolific writer on economic empowerment for Black people.
His latest book, “Black Dollars Matter! Teach Your Dollars How to Make More Sense,” is available on his website, Blackonomics.com, and Amazon Kindle eBooks.