The ‘Whitewashing’ of Black Wall StreetBreaking News
tags: African American history, Oklahoma, Tulsa race massacre
TULSA — When Guy Troupe returned to his hometown after a career in sports consulting to open a coffee shop, he envisioned a gathering spot for Black business owners who would resurrect the commercial district so prosperous that it became known as “Black Wall Street.”
New businesses are indeed rising all around Tulsa’s historic Greenwood district: The Vast Bank headquarters features a French sidewalk bistro and a rooftop sushi bar. Across the street from Troupe’s cafe, cranes hover over the construction of an office and retail complex and a $20 million museum dedicated to that early paragon of Black enterprise — and a century-old massacre that obliterated it.
But as Tulsa authorities provide millions in financial incentives to revitalize the district ahead of an anticipated influx of tourists for this year’s centennial of the 1921 bloodshed, Black entrepreneurs say they are being threatened with erasure yet again, shut out of Greenwood’s most prestigious development projects and priced out of prime retail locations.
Some $42 million in city tax incentives and loans — race-blind under Oklahoma law — has largely benefited White-owned firms that won the majority of contracts to develop lucrative parcels closest to downtown, according to city officials and business leaders.
Tulsa officials say the city has just begun paying attention to the dearth of Black property ownership and will soon open up more land for redevelopment, north of the interstate and farther from the central business district. But it is already too late to make a difference in the most desirable part of Greenwood.
Black entrepreneurs say they have been reduced to renters where African Americans once owned land and built a thriving business community. Without property ownership, they face more difficulty seeding generational wealth. Only a one-block commercial stretch south of the interstate remains Black-owned. To Troupe, it feels like “the final execution of a plan” set in motion a century ago when White Tulsans destroyed what was then seen as a powerful symbol of Black economic success.
The massacre in Greenwood was part of a wave of violence unleashed against Black communities across the country by White mobs in the early 20th century, generally with the approval of local governments.
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