(Past, Present, and Future)
By Mahari A. McTier
As an Entrepreneur and Financial Advisor, I am always intrigued by the economic history, past, present, and future, of Black America. Our history is strong and profound, but when recorded we rarely hear the names of African-American individuals or organizations that made outstanding contributions to the world of business and finance, or amassed enormous amounts of wealth. We read book after book about our achievements during the Civil Rights Movement, our contributions to art and literature, and our roles during the industrial revolution, but rarely do we read about the financial greats that we can hail as iconic role models for our youth who are aspiring to be future business leaders.
February is Black History Month. How many Black History Month speeches will be given by kids about Madam C. J. Walker, one of the first wealthy African-American women in our country, A.G. Gaston, the multi-millionaire business man from Birmingham, Alabama who helped finance the Civil Rights Movement, or Robert Church Sr., who was born a slave and by the end of his life was the first Black Millionaire of the south? A better job must be done in the documentation of this history.
Let me take you on a short journey into our economic history. This journey is a story that has been rarely documented and told, but needs to be shared with the world as a beacon of light and hope for our future.
When you hear “Wall Street” you think of the financial center of the world in New York City or the ‘80’s movie starring Michael Douglas. Did you know that there was a street and district in the early 1900s that was dubbed the “The Black Wall Street”?
The Greenwood Avenue District of Tulsa, Oklahoma was an exemplar of what a motivated African-American community could accomplish. It was populated by successful African-American families, businesses, hospitals and churches. The best description of Black Wall Street would be to compare it to a mini-Beverly Hills. It was the epitome of Black success and wealth in the early 1900s, and it proved that African-Americans could create a successful community infrastructure. That’s what Black Wall Street was all about.
The area encompassed over 600 businesses and 36 square blocks with a population of 15,000 African-Americans. Students wore suits and ties to school on Black Wall Street because of strong morals and respect they were taught as small children.
You had many doctors, lawyers, and business owners in this community. Physicians owned medical schools on Greenwood Avenue. There were 21 restaurants and two movie theaters. There were only two airports in the state of Oklahoma, yet six Blacks owned their own planes. There was a banker in town who had a wife named California Taylor. Her father owned the largest cotton gin west of the Mississippi River. When she shopped, she would take a cruise to Paris every three months to have her clothes made. The community was mind blowing.
One of the foundations of the community was to educate every child. Everyone looked out for each other, believed in nepotism and doing business with their fellow brother in the community first.
The dollar circulated 100 times, sometimes taking a year for the currency to leave the community.
Black Wall Street met its demise on June 1, 1921. The fall was led by the lower economic Europeans’ jealousy of the thriving African-American community. On this day a war broke out in Tulsa.
A young Black man was accused of attempting to rape a white woman on an elevator, a rumor flew through the community and a lynch party was formed. At the courthouse steps, where the man was lynched, a battle began between the Black defense party and the white mob. The Blacks fought hard, but were overwhelmed by the Ku Klux Klan and the National Guard. The battle spread throughout Black Wall Street. The riot was not caused by anything Black or white. It was caused by jealousy.
Black homes were set on afire. They were determined to teach the Blacks a lesson. Black Wall Street and that community was obliterated. More than 10,000 Black people were left homeless. More than 3000 African-Americans were killed. Bodies were dumped in the Arkansas River and others were burned at mass gravesites.
There are so many lessons for us to learn from this community about business and finance, having self-pride, and the power of unity. Think about it and be inspired.
What is the current financial state of Black America? Let’s look at some facts.
• 29.4% of Black households have a zero or negative net-worth. Average net-worth of African-Americans is $6000 and $88,000 for whites.
• More than 50% of all African Americans are not invested in the stock market.
• Median wealth of white households is 10 times that of African-Americans.
• 2 out of 5 African-American households don’t have enough assets to last 3 months if they suffer a major interruption of income.
I could go on and on sharing statistics. As a Financial Advisor I have worked with many individuals over the years seeking to first educate, then to assist them with making smart money decisions. This is where it starts, education and doing better because we know better.
When looking at the current and future state of Black America through the eyes of a finance professional, I see many things that alarm me. I see that African-Americans are not adequately saving for retirement, are under-insured, investing over-conservatively, and don’t have or intend to develop a financial plan. If we don’t make some drastic behavioral changes in the present, we’re going to continue spiraling downward into the future.
We must first start with the individual. We have to change our mind-sets and mentalities before any significant changes will be made among African-Americans as it relates to wealth building. In order for our Black businesses to survive we must support them and our Black businesses must be committed to providing quality service, hiring qualified African-Americans, and giving back to the community. The Black Wall Street is a perfect example of where we must get back. We must become as self sufficient as possible, raise our kids to be respectful, have a strong spiritual foundation, and build legacies that will last for generations. We can no longer afford starting over with every generation. Let’s all make a commitment today that we will create a Black Wall Street in our community and take control of our financial lives.
I don’t find pleasure in identifying the problem. I find peace and joy when being a part of the solution. Through education, discipline, and a collective effort, we can again be the Black Wall Street of Tulsa, Oklahoma!
(Mahari A. McTier is a Financial Advisor with Tier 1 Advisors, LLC and can be reached at mahari@ tier1advisorsllc.com.)