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black wall street, black history month

How wealthy was Black Wall Street?

When we think of Black Wall Street, we are often struck with the devastating images of the Tulsa Massacre. But Tulsa's colony town of Greenwood forged by visionary business pioneers, has such a richer history.

The following is a very nonexhaustive list of why Black Wall Street should be celebrated, and how it defied the odds.


It all started from 40 acres and a grocery store.

Ottawa “O.W.” Gurley purchased the oil-rich land in 1905, where he built the People’s Grocery store. From there, it became a thriving empire, one that contributed to Tulsa's booming population.

According to Forbes, “between 1910 and 1920, Tulsa’s population nearly quadrupled to more than 72,000 and the Black population rose from below 2,000 to almost 9,000.”

This small plot of land soon advanced to rival even New York City. Can you imagine a small town in Oklahoma matching the Big Apple?!

It wasn’t just in Tulsa.

Besides Greenwood in Oklahoma, there were thriving Black Wall Streets in Illinois, North Carolina, Georgia, Arkansas, Mississippi and Virginia, to name a few.

Just how wealthy were the residents? REALLY wealthy.

We’re talking stylish multi-millionaires driving around in luxury cars kind of wealthy.

To put it in perspective: In the entire state of Oklahoma, there were only two airports, yet six families in Greenwood owned private planes.

If it stood today, Greenwood’s worth is estimated to be somewhere in the billions.

It was completely self-contained.

With its own hospital, school and bank, along with hundreds of businesses, dozens of restaurants, and two movie theatres, the town really wanted for nothing.

The dollar circulated almost a year before leaving the district, which is pretty astounding. To this day, no other community has accomplished that. The longest is somewhere around 45 days.

In fact, many residents earned their money entirely within the city, rather than working in white neighborhoods, helping the city become more affluent.

Greenwood’s Little Rose Beauty Salon helped pave the way for black beauty influencers.

Before there were the multimillion dollar brands like Carol’s Daughter, Shea Moisture and Fenty Beauty, there was the Little Rose Beauty Salon, owned by Greenwood’s Mabel B. Little.

Located right in the heart of Greenwood’s business district, the beloved beauty parlor was filled with customers on Thursdays for “Maid’s Night Out.” Young women who worked in white homes would come to receive the magic of self-care, then strut their stuff down Greenwood Avenue. Washing, setting and waving hair was a particularly strong skill Little possessed, having learned it from her aunt.

It had an elite school.

The Booker T. Washington school prepared its students to succeed in college with a rigorous, well-rounded curriculum.

Freshman year was dedicated to a core program of English, science, art and music, with an emphasis on algebra, Latin and ancient history. In their second year, sophomores studied economics and geometry, followed by chemistry and trade-oriented subjects in junior year. The final year had seniors learning physics and trigonometry, vocal music, art and bookkeeping.

And talk about an appreciation for education: Greenwood teachers were among the town’s highest paid workers.

(Oddly enough, as a native Texan I know there's an arts high school by the same name in Dallas county.)

Black Wall Street produced the country’s first African American female bank owner.

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Though she didn't live in Oklahoma, I'm not sure if you can talk about Black Wall Street without mentioning Maggie Walker.

Formerly a teacher, Walker started her career at Richmond, Virginia's Independent Order of Saint Luke, a society that aimed to help freed slaves gain economic independence. Steadily rising through the ranks, she eventually chartered the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank in Richmond, Virginia.

The bank was completely staffed by African American employees, and offered a safe space for residents to manage their money without mistreatment. I mean, when the choice is either to cover up your hair with wax paper to enter a white-owned store or be welcomed as an equal, it’s kind of a no-brainer.

A bronze statue of Maggie Walker currently honors her legacy in downtown Richmond near the city's own Black Wall Street.

There’s a Black Wall street app.

The digital platform, inspired by the prosperity Black Wall Street achieved, aims to provide financial education and empowerment to Black and Latinx users. Using the slogan "Black Cash Matters," the app has adapted the concept of Black Wall Street, and aims to end Black Americans being "systematically refused access to the financial system and the victims of institutionalized predators," according to its website.

When it first launched on June 1, 2021, creator Hill Harper told CNBC that the app’s ultimate goal is to "create a whole ecosystem, and eventually a marketplace where the recirculation, the circulation of dollars through this digital wallet, allows job creation, business creation and job growth.”

John W. Rogers, great grandson of Greenwood’s real estate mogul J.B Stradford, eloquently said, “Greenwood shows that when we are left to our own devices and don’t have a knee to our neck, we can achieve extraordinary things.”

Though the tragedy of the Tulsa Massacre is one part of the story, and an important one, this sentiment is equally invaluable. The legacy left behind by Black Wall Street is one of achievement, and its residents proved what can be done when people are indeed able to pursue their happiness.

Joy

1991 blooper clip of Robin Williams and Elmo is a wholesome nugget of comedic genius

Robin Williams is still bringing smiles to faces after all these years.

Robin Williams and Elmo (Kevin Clash) bloopers.

The late Robin Williams could make picking out socks funny, so pairing him with the fuzzy red monster Elmo was bound to be pure wholesome gold. Honestly, how the puppeteer, Kevin Clash, didn’t completely break character and bust out laughing is a miracle. In this short outtake clip, you get to see Williams crack a few jokes in his signature style while Elmo tries desperately to keep it together.

Williams has been a household name since what seems like the beginning of time, and before his death in 2014, he would make frequent appearances on "Sesame Street." The late actor played so many roles that if you were ask 10 different people what their favorite was, you’d likely get 10 different answers. But for the kids who spent their childhoods watching PBS, they got to see him being silly with his favorite monsters and a giant yellow canary. At least I think Big Bird is a canary.

When he stopped by "Sesame Street" for the special “Big Bird's Birthday or Let Me Eat Cake” in 1991, he was there to show Elmo all of the wonderful things you could do with a stick. Williams turns the stick into a hockey stick and a baton before losing his composure and walking off camera. The entire time, Elmo looks enthralled … if puppets can look enthralled. He’s definitely paying attention before slumping over at the realization that Williams goofed a line. But the actor comes back to continue the scene before Elmo slinks down inside his box after getting Williams’ name wrong, which causes his human co-star to take his stick and leave.

The little blooper reel is so cute and pure that it makes you feel good for a few minutes. For an additional boost of serotonin, check out this other (perfectly executed) clip about conflict that Williams did with the two-headed monster. He certainly had a way of engaging his audience, so it makes sense that even after all of these years, he's still greatly missed.

Noe Hernandez and Maria Carrillo, the owners of Noel Barber Shop in Anaheim, California.

Jordyn Poulter was the youngest member of the U.S. women’s volleyball team, which took home the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics last year. She was named the best setter at the Tokyo games and has been a member of the team since 2018.

Unfortunately, according to a report from ABC 7 News, her gold medal was stolen from her car in a parking garage in Anaheim, California, on May 25.

It was taken along with her passport, which she kept in her glove compartment. While storing a gold medal in your car probably isn’t the best idea, she did it to keep it by her side while fulfilling the hectic schedule of an Olympian.

"We live this crazy life of living so many different places. So many of us play overseas, then go home, then come out here and train,” Poulter said, according to ABC 7. "So I keep the medal on me (to show) friends and family I haven't seen in a while, or just people in the community who want to see the medal. Everyone feels connected to it when they meet an Olympian, and it's such a cool thing to share with people."

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Marlon Brando on "The Dick Cavett Show" in 1973.

Marlon Brando made one of the biggest Hollywood comebacks in 1972 after playing the iconic role of Vito Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather.” The venerable actor's career had been on a decline for years after a series of flops and increasingly unruly behavior on set.

Brando was a shoo-in for Best Actor at the 1973 Academy Awards, so the actor decided to use the opportunity to make an important point about Native American representation in Hollywood.

Instead of attending the ceremony, he sent Sacheen Littlefeather, a Yaqui and Apache actress and activist, dressed in traditional clothing, to talk about the injustices faced by Native Americans.

She explained that Brando "very regretfully cannot accept this generous award, the reasons for this being … the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry and on television in movie reruns, and also with recent happenings at Wounded Knee."

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