This is the fifth and final post in our “Then & Now” series for 2022’s Black History Month in which we highlight an example of business-related discrimination in Black history and pair it with a similar event(s) during our modern day. We share these comparisons to demonstrate the continuing fight for Black justice after the passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Despite popular conceptions of America existing as a “post-racial” society, racism lives—and thrives—to this day, representing the need to further our pursuit of equity for all.
Similar to the difficulties Black individuals have faced throughout US banking history, Black-owned businesses still encounter problems of funding and overall support to this day. A good, although rough, starting point to begin tracing this problematic history lies in the aftermath of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. Known informally as “Black Wall Street” for its vibrant entrepreneurial community and breadth of Black-owned businesses, the Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma, was violently attacked on May 31 by a relentless white mob. Numerous Black residents were killed (it’s estimated between 55 and over 300), while more than a thousand homes and businesses were looted, then set ablaze. The once-thriving neighborhood and business community, which was founded in large part by the descendants of slaves, was essentially razed overnight—all because a 19-year-old Black shoe shiner tripped and accidentally grabbed a white girl’s arm in an elevator.
Besides the horrific nature of the massacre being covered up by Tulsa’s white community for several decades (it wasn’t until 2000 that the tragedy was even included in Oklahoma’s public school curriculum), the Black neighborhood received little to no support from organizations and institutions in the aftermath of the destruction. Insurance companies refused to pay Black property owners’ claims for damages, while a fire ordinance was enacted to deter the community from rebuilding. Many families left to start over elsewhere, but those who did stay had to rebuild Greenwood themselves—and with opposition from Tulsa’s white community.
“Rear view of truck carrying African Americans during the Tulsa, Oklahoma, massacre of 1921” by Alvin C. Krupnick Co. (1921). Public domain.
This blog post doesn’t do the Tulsa Race Massacre justice, as there are many more important details about the event that deserve one’s attention. (We encourage you to learn more about the massacre by consulting the sources linked below.) We also recognize that Black businesses across America faced difficulties much earlier than 1921. However, this tragedy exemplifies the lack of support Black business owners often receive when they need it the most, a trend that haunts our country today. In 2014, for example, Los Angeles business owners Moses and Maurice Harris had to navigate an unwelcoming financial industry to jump-start their coffee shop, Bloom & Plume. Despite Moses’ background in banking and his financial know-how, as well as Maurice’s entrepreneurial experience, the brothers were rejected for a business loan by some 35 to 40 traditional banks. The number of rejections becomes even more suspect considering that Moses possessed significant collateral through home equity and both brothers boasted a steady income.
Eventually, a Black-owned community bank provided the two with a loan for their coffee shop. Though the existence of such financial institutions represents a triumph for the Black business community, Black-owned companies shouldn’t be relegated to community banks for financial support. As history shows us, the burden always falls upon Black individuals to lift themselves up, but it shouldn’t be that way. The value of Black-owned businesses extends far beyond the Black community itself, offering myriad benefits to society more broadly.
“GGM_2635” by Gabriel Garcia Marengo (2018). Licensed under CC BY 2.0.
As a Black-owned company, Inclusive Journeys understands firsthand how difficult it is for Black business owners to navigate the financial landscape. We hope that the Inclusive Guide, in small part, uplifts the many Black-owned businesses doing the tough work of inclusion within our communities. At the company level, we hope that the work of Inclusive Journeys proves to venture capitalists and other, more traditional sources of funding that Black-owned businesses are an asset, not a risk.
If our work speaks to you, sign up for the Inclusive Guide today at inclusiveguide.com and start leaving reviews of businesses in your community. And, as always, we’d be immensely grateful if you donated to our GoFundMe campaign at gofundme.com/f/digital-green-book-website.
Baboolall, David, and Earl Fitzhugh. “Black-owned businesses face an unequal path to recovery.” McKinsey Insights, 11 June 2021, mckinsey.com/featured-insights/sustainable-inclusive-growth/future-of-america/black-owned-businesses-face-an-unequal-path-to-recovery/. Accessed 17 Feb. 2022.
Li, Yun. “Black Wall Street was shattered 100 years ago. How the Tulsa race massacre was covered up and unearthed.” CNBC, 31 May 2021, cnbc.com/2021/05/31/black-wall-street-was-shattered-100-years-ago-how-tulsa-race-massacre-was-covered-up.html. Accessed 17 Feb. 2022.
Parshina-Kottas, Yuliya, Anjali Singhvi, Audra D. S. Burch, Troy Griggs, Mika Gröndahl, Lingdong Huang, Tim Wallace, Jeremy White, and Josh Williams. “What the Tulsa Race Massacre Destroyed.” The New York Times, 24 May 2021, nytimes.com/interactive/2021/05/24/us/tulsa-race-massacre.html. Accessed 17 Feb. 2022.