Thursday, June 14, 2007
Remembering Black Wall StreetThe date was June 1, 1921 when "BLACK WALLSTREET", the name fittingly givento one of the most affluent all-BLACK communities in America , was bombedfrom the air and burned to the ground by mobs of envious whites. In a periodspanning fewer than 12 hours, a once thriving Black business district innorthern Tulsa lay smoldering--a model community destroyed and a majorAfrican-American economic movement resoundingly defused.The night's carnage left some 3,000 African Americans dead and over 600successful businesses lost. Among these were 21 churches, 21 restaurants, 30grocery stores and two movie theaters, plus a hospital, a bank, a postoffice, libraries, schools, law offices, a half dozen private airplanes andeven a bus system. As could have been expected, the impetus behind it allwas the infamous Ku Klux Klan, working in consort with ranking cityofficials and many other sympathizers.In their self-published book, BLACK WALLSTREET: A Lost Dream and itscompanion video documentary, BLACK WALLSTREET: A BLACK Holocaust inAmerica!, the authors have chronicled for the very first time in the wordsof area historians and elderly survivors what really happened there on thatfateful summer day in 1921 and why it happened. Wallace similarly explainedwhy this bloody event from the turn of the century seems to have had arecurring effect that is being felt in predominately BLACK neighborhoodseven to this day.The best description of BLACK WALLSTREET, or little Africa as it was alsoknown, would be to compare it to a mini-Berverly Hills. It was the goldendoor of the BLACK community during the early 1900s, and it proved thatAfrican Americans could create a successful infrastructure. That's whatBLACK WALLSTREET was all about.The dollar circulated 36 to 100 times, sometimes taking a year for currencyto leave the community. Now in 1995, a dollar leaves the BLACK community in15-minutes. As far as resources, there were Ph.D.'s residing in littleAfrica , BLACK attorneys and doctors. One doctor was Dr. Berry who owned thebus system. His average income was $500 a day, a hefty pocket change in1910.During that era physicians owned medical schools. There were also pawn shopseverywhere, brothels, jewelry stores, 21 churches, 21 restaurants and twomovie theaters, It was a time when the entire state of Oklahoma had only twoAirports, Yet six BLACKS owned their own planes. It was a very fascinatingcommunity.The area encompassed over 600 businesses and 36 square blocks with apopulation of 15,000 African Americans. And when the lower-economicEuropeans looked over and saw what the BLACK community created, many of themwere jealous. When the average student went to school on BLACK WALLSTREET,he wore a suit and tie because of the morals and respect they were taught ata young age.The mainstay of the community was to educate every child. Nepotism was theone word they believed in. and that's what we need to get back to in 1995.The main thoroughfare was Greenwood Avenue , and it was intersected byArcher and Pine Streets. From the first letters in each of those three namesyou get G.A.P. and that's where the renowned R and B music group the GAPBand got its name. They're from Tulsa .BLACK WALLSTREET was a prime example of the typical, BLACK community inAmerica that did businesses, but it was in an unusual location. You see, atthe time, Oklahoma was set aside to be a BLACK and Indian state. There wereover 28 BLACK townships there. One third of the people who traveled in theterrifying "Trail of Tears" along side the Indians between 1830 and 1842were BLACK people.The citizens of this proposed Indian and BLACK state chose a BLACK governor,a treasurer from Kansas named McDade. But the Ku Klux Klan said that if heassumed office that they would kill him within 48 hours. A lot of BLACKSowned farmland, and many of them had gone into the oil business. Thecommunity was so tight and wealthy because they traded dollars hand-to-hand,and because they were dependent upon one another as a result of the Jim CrowLaws.It was not unusual that if a resident's home accidentally burned down, itcould be rebuilt within a few weeks by neighbors. This was the type ofscenario that was going on day-to-day on BLACK WALLSTREET. When BLACKsintermarried into the Indian culture, some of them received their promised'40 acres and a mule' and with that came whatever oil was later found on theproperties.Just to show you how wealthy a lot of BLACK people were, there was a bankerin the neighboring town who had a wife named California Taylor.Her father owned the largest cotton Gin west of the Mississippi (River).When California shopped, she would take a cruise to Paris every three monthsto have her clothes made.There was also a man named Mason in nearby Wagner County who had the largestpotato farm west of the Mississippi . When he harvested, he would fill 100boxcars a day, Another brother not far away had the same thing with aspinach farm. The typical family then was five children or more, though thetypical farm family would have 10 kids or more who made up the nucleus ofthe labor.On BLACK WALLSTREET, a lot of global business was conducted, The communityflourished from the early 1900s until June 1, 1921. That's when the largestmassacre of nonmilitary Americans in the history of this country took place,and it was lead by the KU KLUX KLAN. Imagine walking out of your front doorand seeing 1,500 homes being burned. It must have been amazing.Survivors we interviewed think that the whole thing was planned becauseduring the time that all of this was going on, white families with theirchildren stood around the borders of their community and watched themassacre. The looting and everything--much in the same manner they wouldwatch a lynching.The riots weren't caused by anything black or white. It was caused byjealousy. A lot of white folks had come back from World War I and they werepoor. When they looked over into the BLACK communities and realized thatBLACK men who fought in the war had come home heroes that helped trigger thedestruction.It cost the BLACK community everything, and not a single dime ofrestitution--no insurance claims-- has been awarded the victims to this day.Nonetheless, they rebuilt. We estimate, that 1,500 to 3,000 people werekilled and we know that a lot of them were buried in mass graves all aroundthe city. Some were thrown into the river. As a matter of fact, at 21ststreet and Yale Avenue , where there now stands a Sears parking lot, thatcorner used to be a coal mine. They threw a lot of the bodies into theshafts.BLACK Americans don't know about this story because we don't apply the wordHOLOCAUST to our struggle. Jewish people use the word HOLOCAUST all thetime. White people use the word HOLOCAUST. It's politically correct to useit. But we BLACK folks use the word, people think we're being cry babies orthat we're trying to bring up old issues. No one comes to our support.In 1910, our forefathers and mothers owned 13 million acres of land at theheight of racism in this country, so the BLACK WALLSTREET BOOK and VIDEOTAPEprove to naysayers and revisionists that we had our act together. Ourmandate now is to begin to teach our children about our own, ongoing BLACKHOLOCAUST. They have to know when they look at our communities today that wedon't come from this."You can't sail for other islands until you are willing to lose sight of your own shore"
Thursday, June 7, 2007
Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks was born on this date in 1917. An American poet, she is the first African-American to receive a Pulitzer Prize. Born in Topeka, Kansas, Brooks graduated from Wilson Junior College in 1936. Critics praised her first book of poems, A Street in Bronzeville, (1945) as a moving evocation of life in an urban Black neighborhood. In 1949, Brooks wrote Annie Allen, and was awarded the 1950 Pulitzer Prize in poetry. Since then, she has written a number of selections for readers of all ages. These include Maude Martha (1953), The Bean Eaters (1960), In the Mecca (1968), Riot (1969), Jump Bad (edited): A NewChicago Anthology (1971), Report from Part One: An Autobiography (1972), To Disembark (1981), The Near-Johannesburg Boy and Other Poems (1986), Blacks (1987), and Children Coming Home (1991). Brooks is noted for her adaptation of traditional forms of poetry and for her use of short verse lines and casual rhymes. Brooks was named poet laureate for the state of Illinois in 1968, succeeding Carl Sandburg. In 1985 she was appointed poetry consultant to the Library of Congress. In 1990 Brooks became the first American to receive the Society for Literature Award from the University of Thessalonica in Athens, Greece. She received the National Book Foundation's medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters in 1994. Gwen Brooks died December 4, 2000.