Black Ownership Is Key to Success

Jewelz A. Lopez

Caldwell University 

The 2020 riots pertaining to the death of George Flloyd at the hands of police in Minnesota have fueled my interest in studying the topic of systemic racism in the United States. We are only 7 decades from the last years of the Southern state laws, collectively known as Jim Crow laws, that were implemented to enforce racial segregation. Though we have made progress throughout the years, we are nowhere close to where we need to be. We have proven we are beyond capable of being successful despite the odds. We have been torn down time and time again - but this time we will rebuild stronger, and smarter. The lasting effects of segregation can be healed in a few generations. Utilizing the knowledge of our peers, engaging in group economics, and having more equity or ownership in the black community is the key to our progression.

Black Wall Street: Tulsa, Oklahoma 1921

The Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921 was a lively and bustling community of successful African-Americans who created entrepreneurial opportunities for themselves. Before the business owners and residents of this district were looted and massacred on May 31st, 1921 , this downtown business hub included black owned banks, movie theaters, cafes, etc. A wealthy black landowner named O.W. Gurley is credited with the origin of "Black Wall Street" Greenwood for purchasing 40 acres of land, opening the first black business there in 1906,  maintaining a boarding house for African-Americans, and giving out business loans. This was a self contained and self-reliant black community that attracted prominent black entrepreneurs like J.B. Stradford. Dispite being born into slavery in Kentucky, Stradford accomplished building the largest black owned hotel in the country while working as a lawyer and activist. 

Creating a space for black people to pool their resources, and build together, was a core vision for Gurley and Stradford as they believed this was the best opportunity for progression. In fact, it has been said that the black dollar circulated 19 times in this community before it left its boarders. Racial tension due to an accusation of sexual assualt by a 19-year-old black man on a 17-year-old white woman, mixed with jealousy of the Black Tulsan's lifestyle, resulted in white mobs decimating this epicenter of black achievement. Within 24 hours of the massacre 35 blocks of Greenwood were bombed and burned to the ground, an estimated 300 African Americans died, and 6,000 black tulsans were detained by the National Guard after Governor Robertson declared martial law. Those detained were only released after being vouched for by a white employer or civilian who assumed the responsibility for whatever that detainee did after leaving the authorities. 9,000 African-Americans were left homeless in the wake. This was the end of the black Mecca, which to this day does not compare to its history.

Black Wall Street:  Richmond, Virginia 1940's

Jackson Ward of Richmond, Virginia from the early 1920's to the late 1940's was another self-sustaining black economy that became an epicenter of black entertainment and black banking (#20). Cities with large African American populations began to rely on black community banks to provide business loans and home ownership loans because of the denials from white-owned banks. In 1903, the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank was opened in Richmond, Virginia by Maggie Lena Walker - who was the daughter of a freed slave. She became the first woman bank president, and after merging with other black banks she founded the Consolidated Bank and Trust. This institution allowed qualified borrowers such as black lawyers, doctors, and entrepreneurs to leverage funds when they were denied by traditional banks. When the integration process began and banks were forced to accept African-American clients, black-owned banks saw a decline in operations because they could not match the technologies offered by their competitor

During the famous speech "I've Been to the Mountaintop" given by Dr.Martin Luther King on April 3rd, 1968 he advocated for keeping the black dollar cirulating through black banks, back into the black economy. At the height of black banking at this time there were more than 100 black-owned banks. Black banks were not included in the "big Wall Street bailout" of the 2008 financial crisis, resulting in only 25 black-owned banks remaining, and a 40% loss in African American wealth in the United States. This creates an issue due to the racial bias that is present in the American banking system.

Several studies have looked at this phenomen including the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston in 1992. They found that black borrowers with similar credit scores as white borrowers were twice as likely to get rejected for loans after examining 4,500 mortgage loan applications. BancorpSouth Bank in Mississippi was sued in June 2016 and settled for $10.6 million when two federal undercover agents applied for mortgage loans. The black agent was offered a smaller loan with a higher interest rate dispite having a higher credit score than the white undercover agent. Having equal access to these services highlights the importance of supporting black banks, and leveraging our group economics to contribute to the success and progress of our community. 

Black Banker: Bernard S. Garret 1962 Bernard S. Garret was born and raised in Texas under the oppression of the Southern Jim Crow laws, and became an incredibly successful businessman in partnership with Joseph B. Morris. Respectively they were each worth a net of $1.5 million by 1954, and $2 million by 1962. In order to maintain their business operations and wealth they had to remain in the shadows by hiring a "white face" for their endeavors, Matthew D. Steiner. Due to the racial climate of the times, Garret and Morris hid their identities behind janitorial and chauffeur outfits in order to keep an eye on their day to day business activities. One man's aspirations can be a catalyst for inspiration and radical change. 

In the pursuit of the American Dream, Garret was able to provide a lifeline to the black community by way of giving them access to better housing options, loans, and allowing them to participate in the economy like they never have before. He believed the best way to ensure improved living conditions for the black community was through economic growth by creating opportunities for African Americans . With the purchase of an apartment building in a white Los Angeles neighborhood, Garret was able to provide affluent blacks with apartments in integrated areas they otherwise would not be allowed to move into. Unfortunately a series of banking legal mishaps in the partnership with Steiner lead to the demise of the black bankers. Throughout his career Garrett purchased at least 177 buildings, one of which was Banker's Building in Los Angeles. One philosophy of Garrett's is "The only time a man is really truly rich is when he controls money". According to Blair Smith, chief investment officer of a commercial real estate lender, "There was an orchestrated effort to keep African Americans from becoming a viable economic competitor in this country...The building block to success, to build wealth, is equity. You have to have ownership."

Lasting Effects of Segregation

Racial segregation in the United States still has permeating affects in all aspects of the average African-American's daily life: income, physical & mental health, housing, and education. In contrast to the 1960's, the racial income gap between black and white families remains the same despite the end of segregation and progressive reforms. In 2016, the average African-American family had a median income of 56% of the median white family income; compared to 1968 when it was 57%. This can be attributed to an array of issues like racial discrimination in the workplace, differences in family structure, and access to education. Not to mention the share of the national wealth held by the richest 1% in America has almost doubled since the 1970's , diminishing any progress the black community has made. Income inequality is the root to the other layers of inequality.

The health disparities in the black community mostly stem from the lack of lack of private insurance. Patients using medicare are more likely to receive low quality care, have lower rates of procedures, suffer inadequate medical supplies in pharmacies, and have higher possibility of their neighborhood hospital closing . Studies have shown that ethnic groups tend to have less access to mental healthcare, and utilize less mental health services, whether it is a lack of insurance or stigma. Interestingly enough, though the prevalence rates of mental illness in African Americans is lower than among other ethnicity groups, they do show greater severity in these illnesses which may be due to the lack of treatment they receive. African-Americans may also harbor distrust in the healthcare system after historical racial experiences like the Tuskegee experiment.

Living in poverty lends itself to a host of problems, creating a vicious cycle. Low income combined with mortgage loan red-lining from banks, enco