This article originally appeared in USA Today's Opinion section on May 31, 2021. Please click the link below and consider subscribing to read the full article.
After centuries of racial violence, displacement, segregation and a lack of investment, the idea of a Black Wall Street – where businesses and entrepreneurship can thrive and money can continue to support it – is a near impossibility. How many Black Wall Streets were there in America? It's hard to know.
Our President and CEO, Fay Horwitt, collaborated with Assistant Director of the Education Policy Center at NYCLU, Lanessa Owens-Chaplin, and Program Associate at the Surdna Foundation, Trevor Smith, to co-author a timely history of Black Wall Streets in America. Black innovation outposts like Durham, NC; Richmond, VA; and Syracuse, NY are examined and recommendations of how to build new Wall Streets are included. Find this article in USA Today.
The article begins by summarizing the histories of former Black Wall Streets. In Durham, NC, just a few miles from our headquarters, the Hayti community was a flourishing aggregation of over 200 Black-owned businesses. However, "that prosperity would last another few decades, before the community was divided by Highway 147, permanently displacing hundreds of residents, cutting the community off from downtown Durham and leveling the heart of Hayti's business district." This community and others like it were destroyed by state development.
With stories like this across the nation, and their effects on Black wealth outlined, Fay and her colleagues describe what policymakers can do to not repeat our past: "As discussions within the Biden administration around infrastructure and the economy continue, it’s imperative that these plans address the history of displacement, engage in deeper conversations, and work toward the amelioration of structural wealth inequality. The administration must also make investments in Black communities that allow them to regain ownership over local businesses and keep wealth within their communities"
The article ends with a call to action for activists, policymakers, and funders interested in supporting the future Black business. "We must collectively acknowledge the reality that the historic growth of thriving Black business districts was not brought about by charity or verbal statements of support from the white community. Historically, Black wealth was built through catalytic investment in Black financial vehicles and property ownership."