In the early 1900s, the Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma was known as America’s “Black Wall Street.” The district was an enclave for over 300 Black-owned businesses, including movie theaters, grocery stores, and law firms.
These businesses thrived in spite of laws put in place to hinder Black economic progress. Their success angered white residents who resented the idea of a thriving Black community. By 1921, racial tensions in Tulsa had reached a tipping point.
That summer the local newspaper published unsubstantiated rumors alleging a Black man had sexually assaulted a white woman. A white mob stormed the Greenwood District, and in a single day, destroyed 35 blocks of the neighborhood, burned down hundreds of Black-owned businesses, and killed up to 300 Black residents. This horrific day of violence, inflicted on one of the era’s wealthiest Black communities, came to be known as the Tulsa Race Massacre.
Last week marked the 99th anniversary of the massacre. Set against the backdrop of a pandemic that has disproportionately impacted the Black community and nationwide protests against police brutality, the anniversary serves as a stark reminder of how much work remains to achieve racial equality.
How does buying a product from a Black-owned business help reach that goal?
When you support a Black-owned business, you are supporting the kind of economic opportunity that has historically been denied to - or, in the case of Tulsa, taken from - Black communities.
It’s been almost a century since the Tulsa Massacre, but statistics tell the story of lagging prosperity and economic opportunity.
Today, Black people make up 13 percent of America’s overall population, but only 4 percent of its business owners. One factor contributing to that disparity is access to capital. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Minority Business Development Agency, Black entrepreneurs are more likely to receive smaller loans with higher interest rates than their white counterparts.
Location can also be a challenge for Black entrepreneurs. A 2020 report by the Brookings Institute found that even highly-rated businesses in Black neighborhoods experience slower revenue growth than poorly-rated businesses in neighborhoods that are predominantly white.
What a purchase can do
When you buy a good or a service from a Black-owned small business, you are supporting an entity that strengthens the local economy, creates jobs, and can spur faster economic growth. And since Black businesses are the second-highest employers of Black people, a thriving Black business can decrease the unemployment rate among local Black residents while reinvesting its revenue into the community.
So, why are Americans being encouraged to support Black-owned businesses right now? In part, because it sends a powerful message given our country’s history. It’s also a tangible way to foster economic opportunity, empowerment, and employment in Black communities that are working to build the generational wealth they have historically been denied.
For more information about how you can support Black-owned businesses, see our Instagram post on this topic.
Editor’s Note: Our Events in Context series looks at the intersection of public policy, economic security/opportunity, and American history. This effort is particularly important as we try to deepen our understanding of the problems facing communities of color and the array of solutions available to address those issues.