The country is slowly turning over a new leaf, one that will hopefully lead to a racially conscious society that uncovers stories like Black Wall Street and the Rosewood Massacre, that depict the sad fate many Black Americans experienced simply for creating their own wealth. It remains important that these stories be told by the descendants of those whose lives were uprooted and devastated.
It was announced Thursday that LeBron James and Maverick Carter’s media outlet SpringHill Entertainment Company has raised $100 million dollars that will fulfill its mission of “unapologetic agenda: a maker and distributor of all kinds of content that will give a voice to creators and consumers who’ve been pandered to, ignored, or underserved.”
Sixty-four percent of James’ company are people of color and 40 percent are women, which far exceeds the progress of the racial demographics of most media outlets.
Earlier this month, James announced that he is also working on a Black Wall Street documentary to tell the story of how a White mob decimated the Greenwood district in Northwest Tulsa. It was also reported that Russell Westbrook is working on a Black Wall Street film, Terror in Tulsa, set to release next year.
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In light of the current racial awakening the country is going through, Thursday an announcement rolled out that New Orleans Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins is working on a docu-series capturing the history of black wealth in this country; a great segue to explain why the racial wealth gap between black folks has existed and continues to exist.
Political policies coupled with white hate crimes have been the biggest obstacles to Black economic success in the United States, dating back to when all enslaved people were supposed to receive 40 acres and a mule. Once President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, that promise was no longer on the table. In fact, white folks received those prized possessions instead.
As we all know, during that time, the easiest way to stack wealth was land. Just like any investment, the value of that land increased over time. Fast forward to the debilitating Jim Crow era, the New Deal programs, G.I. Bill and many other political policies that completely excluded Black people for the first half of the 20th century.
Today, Black folks are shelved into segregated neighborhoods and disenfranchised schools and, unlike white communities, have their tax dollars diverted away from necessities like education and social services.
History is full of mass Black bodies being lynched because of Black economic prosperity, like the Wilmington Insurrection of 1898, Springfield race riot of 1908, Atlanta Riot of 1906, The Meridian, Mississippi race riot of 1871, Colfax Massacre in Louisiana in April 1873, the Red Summer of 1919. And the list goes on.
And there are countless stories of Black folks that might have become one of these statistics but were fortunate enough that, once they heard rumbling of such threats, they up and fled town, leaving business and belongings behind — I personally can attest to this with my great grandfathers on both sides of my family. A common thread here: They had to start all over.
An underlying theme of all of this is that white folks were not comfortable watching Black economic prosperity and independence.
Whether folks want to admit it or not, the key principle of enslavement was to build wealth. Period.
The entire institution, from the individual enslaved person to the assets that person was able to garner for their enslaver, were valued at a hefty dollar amount. When slavery was forced to end, those enslavers had amassed millions of dollars in wealth for their families. By today’s account, the value of 200 years of U.S. eslavement would be worth trillions of dollars.
Let that sit for a second.
Fast forward to post-slavery era and Jim Crow, where Black families who were “set free” but had nowhere to go, went about their lives to try to build a future.
Tusla, Oklahoma, had mass amounts of available land. Rosewood, Florida, had mass amounts of available land. Texas, Georgia, North Carolina; these were places where predominantly Black communities were built during the late parts of the 19th and early 20th century. This was also the time period where Black higher education systems, HBCUs, were built so that Black people could learn advanced skills and earn a college degree. Black folks were owning farms, producing goods, creating businesses, and doing what America advertises itself as, the land of opportunity. “The American Dream” — but with that came waves of hate.
Today, white American wealth is estimated to be worth $102 trillion and Black American wealth is just $6 trillion according to Business Insider.
In American history, you can’t speak of Black economic prosperity without also acknowledging the mass lynchings and threats incited by white folks. Which is why these stories need to be told and they need to be as authentic as possible. The fact that prominent Black athletes during this time are realizing the importance of displaying these stories to the masses is much needed right now. This is a time of unlearning but also a time to fill in the gaps of the nuanced definition of what “American Exceptionalism” was about, because we were not told the honest truth.