Tulsa race massacre still hurts black homeowners in US

  • The Tulsa Race Massacre destroyed “Black Wall Street,” and it still hurts black Americans a century later.
  • The attacks wiped out swathes of black wealth and prevented many people from owning homes, the researchers found.
  • Many of the effects have spread as a result of the racist media coverage, and those effects have worsened over time, the team added.

The Tulsa Running Massacre destroyed one of America’s most prosperous black neighborhoods a century ago. Its fallout is still being felt by black Americans across the country, according to a to study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The Tulsa Massacre of 1921 was one of the most devastating incidents of racial violence in U.S. history. The attacks demolished the community then known as “Black Wall Street” and caused an estimated loss of up to $ 47 million. White residents of Tulsa looted and burned the 35-acre district, thousands of black Americans were held in internment camps, and around 300 people are estimated to have been killed.

Progress towards racial equity was made in the century following the massacre, but the attacks in Tulsa continue to weigh on the black American population. For many black Americans, the massacre served as a “warning against the potential destruction of wealth,” researchers Alex Albright, Jeremy Cook, James Feigenbaum, Laura Kincaide, Jason Long and Nathan Nunn said in the July newspaper. This has dragged on homeownership and the tendency to invest in other assets. The same trends were seen in communities that matched Tulsa’s high levels of racial segregation, the team added.

In total, the homeownership rate of black heads of household in Tulsa fell 4.5% immediately after the massacre. The rate of black Americans living in a household owned by a family member plunged 6.3%, and the share of black white-collar workers fell 2.3%.

Newspaper coverage of the massacre also had negative effects outside of Oklahoma. Much of the contemporary coverage was in favor of the attacks, with many blaming black Americans and the prosperity of Tulsa for the massacre. In areas exposed to such coverage, black Americans were less likely to invest in homes and other valuable assets that push households up the socio-economic ladder, the study found.

1921 Tulsa race massacre black wall street

The day after the Tulsa Race Massacre, in which mobs of white residents attacked black residents and businesses in the Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma, in June 1921.

Bettmann Archives / Getty Images

“At the time, the massacre was the largest single episode of property destruction experienced by a black community,” the researchers said. “This warned of the danger of accumulating wealth through home ownership. In an instant, his house and possessions could be destroyed.”

Other research suggests that some of the negative effects did not wear off and instead intensified over time.

The researchers found that after expanding the analysis to include 1980, 1990, and 2000, the direct effects of the massacre worsened, meaning they weighed more heavily on black homeownership in Tulsa and in the surrounding area. The newspaper ripple effect also intensified, reporting that neighborhoods exposed to positive coverage of the massacre saw persistent blows to black property and wealth.

However, the segregation effect – that seen in segregated neighborhoods like Tulsa – was “significantly weaker in magnitude” and did not persist, according to the team. This reduced effect could be explained by the segregation trends of each county, they added. Thus, some counties could still suffer from the segregation effect while others not.

Even a century later, the Tulsa Race Massacre haunts black Americans in Oklahoma and beyond. Whether in the form of direct wealth loss, racist media coverage or persistent segregation, the attacks have caused permanent damage to the wealth building of black Americans, according to the study.

“The massacre may have put black Tulsans and some black communities on a different trajectory, at least in terms of home ownership,” the team said.

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