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The History and Hope of the Black Economy

A Unique Struggle for Black Americans

By Eamon Handzel

The story of civilization involves the story of the minority. Whether or not that minority succeeds in its new adopted country rests almost entirely in its ability to grow financially to the point of being self-sustaining. For better or for worse, this is the only way waves of immigrants in America have succeeded; by investing in their own communities before investing in others. The counter to this is that it promotes segregation by encouraging everyone to think along racial/ethnic lines. There is truth to this. However, to date, there has never been a successful immigrant wave to this country that didn’t prosper by looking out for their own interest before others. When the Italians first came here, they faced mass discrimination on account of their different appearance, their language, their customs, etc. An example of the bigotry they faced is that in 1891, 11 Italian immigrants were lynched in front of a statue of Robert E. Lee by a xenophobic mob.   

Little Italy NYC, early 1900’s.

 In a perfect world, Italian Americans could’ve lived anywhere, worked anywhere, and spent their money anywhere regardless of ethnicity. But that simply wasn’t the case. Italians, pressured by discrimination, had their own communities within America and therefore spent their money within those very neighborhoods. This had the effect of creating wealthy Italian businesses that could expand, send future generations to college, and be seen as an established part of America.  

This has been the same story for most ethnicities to enter the country. The Jews, the Slavs, the Asians, the Indians, the Latinos, and many more established themselves by investing in their own communities.  

Black America has had a different story, partly because Blacks didn’t immigrate here, and partly because there have been major external impediments to their success. 

Red Summer of 1919 

Ater WW1, Blacks started filling a labor gap created by the closing of the U.S. borders to European nations. With the economic rise of the Black community came the resentment of White Supremacists, culminating into riots all over the nation, where White Supremacists mobs attacked Blacks openly (though Blacks fought back occasionally). That summer of violence across three dozen cities left many Blacks dead from riots as well as 97 lynches.  

The worst of that summer was in Elaine, Arkansas. Fearful of Socialism, White farmers went to disrupt a Black Farmers Union meeting, and in the confrontation a White man was shot dead. The Whites formed a militia and over two days killed between 100-237 Black men, women, and children at random with 5 Whites dying as well.  

The burning of Tulsa, OK, 1921. Courtesy of Getty Images.


The classic story of the disastrous consequence of Blacks attempting to become financially stable is the 1921 Tulsa Burning. Blacks living in the Greenwood District of Tulsa Oklahoma, started self-investing and became an incredible wealthy community. “Greenwood became so prosperous that it came to be known as “the Negro Wall Street” (now commonly referred to as “the Black Wall Street”). Blacks had created their own businesses and services in this enclave, including several grocers, two newspapers, two movie theaters, nightclubs, and numerous churches. Black professionals, including doctors, dentists, lawyers, and clergy, served their peers.”  (“Tulsa Race Massacre” n.d.) 

Following a mob fight between Whites and Blacks over the rumor of a Black man being lynched (as was extremely common in the area), a White mob, many of whom were deputized by police, ransacked and set fire to Greenwood. The destruction left roughly 10,000 Blacks homeless, 800 injured, and an estimated 300 dead.  

Wells Fargo 

Fast forward to this century, and you still see an external impediment to Black financial stability in the form of Wells Fargo, the nation’s 4th largest bank, racially discriminating against Blacks and Hispanics. After the Housing Bubble Burst in 2008, many minorities saw their property foreclosed on as a result of especially high mortgage rates.   

“A government investigation found 34,000 instances of Wells Fargo charging African Americans and Hispanics higher fees and rates on mortgages compared with white borrowers with similar credit profiles, according to documents filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.”  (Rothacker and Ingram) 

Later, Wells Fargo ended up paying $175m in settlement.  


Still Trying 

Despite the rather grim history of the Black American experience and several noted instances of calamity, there is still a strong effort from many Black leaders to reach the same financial viability attained by many other minorities of this country. 

Protesting is a great means of fighting injustice, but ultimately, it’s reactive rather than proactive. 

It is the opinion of this Newspaper that one of the most effective means of elevating the Black community is for Black people to start spending their money at Black owned businesses as much as possible. In effect, to create a 2nd Black Wall Street right here in Utica, only this time it hopefully won’t suffer the same fate. This is not to discriminate against any non-Black businesses, but to simply promote a new market. A financially healthy Black population means more potential Black customers eventually spending outside their community and thus benefitting everyone regardless of race. It’s simple; Black community invests in itself, creates financially secure Black spenders, then those people contribute to the prosperity of the nation. This of course isn’t to suggest that only Black people should be obligated to spend at Black owned businesses. Whatever your race/ethnicity, it’s in your best interest to invest locally. So, if you happen to live in a Black neighborhood, spend there as well. While on the subject, it’s in the best interest of everyone everywhere to shop at local businesses instead of chain stores. Strong local economies are vital for the restoration of the nation.   



Rothacker, Rick and David Ingram. “Wells Fargo to pay $175 million in race discrimination probe”. Reuters, 12 July 2012. Web. 

Wikipedia: Tulsa Race Massacre & Red Summer 

Higgins, Abigail. “Red Summer of 1919: How Black WWI Vets Fought Back Against Racist Mobs”. History, 26 July 2019. Web. 

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