What Was Black Wall Street?
February 6, 2021
Black Wall Street in the 1920s was an epicenter of African American culture and business. Located in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the Black Wall Street district had been considered one of the most affluent African American communities in the United States for the early part of the 20th century. Its tremendous economic success was due in part to massive community support of local black-owned businesses in the area. Unfortunately, in May 1921 after a false rape claim by a white woman against a Black man came to light, Black Wall Street was destroyed as the growing envy of poorer white citizens came to a head. Outraged, thousands of white citizens poured into the Greenwood District, looting and burning homes and businesses over an area of 35 city blocks. According to an American Red Cross estimate, some 1,256 houses were burned, and 215 were looted but not torched. Two newspapers, a school, a library, a hospital, churches, hotels, stores and many other Black-owned businesses were among the buildings destroyed or damaged by fire. Historians estimate the death toll may have been as high as 300 Black citizens. To this day, Black Wall street remains significant because it represents the importance of economic empowerment in African American communities and the strength in supporting Black businesses.
There are numerous other examples of early 1900s African American communities with a strong history of diversity and entrepreneurial prowess including the Hayti Community. Now located in Durham, North Carolina, Hayti (pronounced Hay-tie) was established in the years following the Civil War in the area around St. Joseph’s AME Church. The naming of the community was inspired by the first free independent Black republic in the Western Hemisphere, called “Haiti.” Black people from surrounding areas were drawn to Hayti to do their banking and business, which caused it to flourish into an economic and social powerhouse in the Durham area. As a vibrant African American middle class community, Hayti even received national acclaim, including written praise from W.E.B du Bois and Booker T. Washington. Later, the Hayti community would play an important role in the Civil Rights Movement as it was one of the few places Martin Luther King, Jr could visit to raise capital and to find himself a comfortable place.