What was Black Wall Street?

The Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma

Black Wall Street is the name given to the neighborhood of African-American businesses in Tulsa, Oklahoma during the early 20th century. The neighborhood was the largest and wealthiest black community in America at the time. Black Wall Street was a symbol of black success and a powerful economic engine for black entrepreneurship. This prosperous community was founded in 1904 by two men, Robert Reed Church and his brother-in-law, Jesse O. McKee, and included a professional school, a lawyer’s association and newspaper, the Booker T. Washington Savings Bank, and the offices of black physicians, dentists, lawyers, real estate agents, and many other professionals.

During the early 20th century, it was considered the “Rome of Black America.” But beginning on June 1, 1921, during the racially-motivated Tulsa Race Massacre, the district was destroyed by whites.

Perhaps no other riot in U.S. history destroyed as many lives and as much property. More than 800 people were injured; at least 800 black men and women were left homeless; 35 city blocks were destroyed; and at least 35 black-owned businesses were looted. The riot was the culmination of three days of racial violence in the boom town. It began when rumors spread that a black teenager had assaulted a white elevator operator. A mob of angry white men stormed the police station looking for the boy. To this day that once prosperous Black Wall Street never really fully recovered.

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