When I was in college 16 years ago, I learned about “Black Wall Streets” that existed in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Durham, North Carolina, and Wilmington, North Carolina. I hadn’t known that during the Reconstruction era (1863-1977), Black people in the United States of America owned their own homes, businesses, airports, airplanes, grocery stores, department stores, delis, banks, and more. This was an encounter with history that expounded my learning and improved my concept of self.
Carter G. Woodson wanted Black History Month to be a starting point to raise more awareness of Black culture and Black peoples’ contributions to the world. Black historical discovery, such as my late awareness of Black Wall Streets in the U.S., are pivotal in honoring our past and present. In addition to the stand-alone “firsts” of Black people making great achievements, all children and families need to understand the impact of collective Black communities to witness the resilience that comes from Black people working together, supporting one another.
When more Black children understand the histories of places like Harlem, New York, Warnersville in Greensboro, Sweet Auburn Avenue in Atlanta, Tenth Street in Dallas, Treme in New Orleans, Bronzeville in Chicago and Overtown in Miami, they will be better able to align themselves with everyday greatness. When greatness is very close, it has a keen ability to inspire it.
In completing extensive research on Black Wall Streets across the US, I learned a great deal about how these communities were destroyed. In Tulsa and Wilmington there were government supported destruction by way of bombs and a political coup d’etat, Respectively. In areas like Durham, Treme, Tenth Street, and Overtown highways were built in the middle of the communities, disrupting business growth, while causing negative environmental and health outcomes. While teaching ourselves and our children about the success and destruction of these communities, we need to collectively support a new Black Movement of Economics. Economics and ownership are important indicators within the United States that can show how any group of people is surviving or thriving. Since the Reconstruction Era and the destruction of Black Wallstreet economies across the nation, Black communities have been challenged to hold on to an economic identity.
For example, on Killer Mike’s recent Netflix special, he attempted to survive for 24 hours, using only products from Black-owned companies. Spoiler alert: it was extremely difficult and impossible at times. Research tells us that the Black dollar only stays in the Black community for 6 hours. After Reconstruction, Jim Crow, integration, and the civil rights movement, only six hours! I remember growing up and being surrounded by Black seamstresses, truck drivers, mechanics, restaurant owners, dry cleaners and plumbers. This was my norm. So for me, to begin learning this history at age 18 is tragic and to continue seeing the negative impacts of such a history is disheartening.
I appreciate Killer Mike for bringing his experience to the forefront. If we are to move forward as a Black community, Black History Month must work as a gateway for learning and action, improving our children’s ability to repeat black economic excellence beyond the individual: our children need to learn to build collective black economies.
I don’t want future Black Wall Streets to be a distant and unattainable figment of my imagination. I want a way forward in teaching our children to create, build, and own. When we look at the majority of schools in the United States, we are teaching our children what to think and where to work versus how to think and strategies for ownership.
So yes, let’s celebrate Black History and Black Excellence AND let’s also grow Black families, Black ownership, and resurrect Black Wall Streets throughout the country.