Hill Harper is a humanitarian, an award-winning actor, best-selling author, and entrepreneur. He currently stars in ABC’s television drama, “The Good Doctor.” In addition to his performing arts career, Harper has authored four New York Times bestsellers including his award-winning book, “The Wealth Cure,” which addresses ways to solve the racial wealth gap. He is also the Founder and Chairman of The Black Wall Street Technologies; he is on the Board of Directors of the National Black Bank Fund; and, he is an Honorary National Co-Chair of the Redevelopment of Black Wall Street, Greenwood Chamber of Commerce.
In 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, Black people in the U.S. owned 1% of our country’s wealth. Today, more than 158 years later, Black Americans still hold only 1% of wealth in the U.S. How is it possible that the wealth of Black people in this country has remained unchanged since being held as property providing free labor? How does this change?
The historical data reveals that little to no progress has been made in reducing income and wealth inequalities between Black and white Americans. Instead, what we are seeing is the accumulated effects of four centuries of institutional and systemic racism, which has caused disparities in income, health, education, and other social mobility opportunities that persist to this day. Sadly, our nation’s two greatest wounds—racism and poverty—have allowed the wealth gap to remain pervasive and extreme. And though these wounds are inextricably linked, I also believe they are solvable.
The history of Black wealth and prosperity in the U.S. remains a truth that is still hidden from far too many citizens. The most prosperous Black community to date was the Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma, or as Booker T. Washington dubbed “Negro Wall Street.” From 1905 to 1921, Tulsa’s Greenwood District was comprised by 1,200+ Black-owned businesses including banks, butchers, barbers, luxury hotels, theaters, and homes throughout 40 city blocks. Encompassing over 400 acres, “Greenwood” was a beacon of wealth, education, advancement, and collective economics.
I believe three pillars created the group’s economic success in Tulsa’s Black Wall Street:
- Institutional Ownership—Blacks owned their businesses and property
- Institutional Trust—Blacks trusted and contracted each other’s businesses and services
- Recirculation of the Black dollar
In 1921, a dollar within Black Wall Street changed hands and recirculated in the ecosystem for one to three years; whereas in 2021, a dollar leaves the Black community within six to seven hours. The embodiment of a self-sustaining community was Greenwood’s Black entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers, customers, and residents who did not rely on white benefactors or government support. They supported and strengthened one another, enabling viable access to education, jobs, housing, savings, and growing millions of dollars in wealth.
Black Wall Street thrived and prospered until May 31, 1921, when in just under 24 hours, the entire Greenwood community was looted; businesses and homes were burned and destroyed; and over 300 Black men, women, and children were brutally murdered. Often left out in U.S. history textbooks, the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 is the single worst incident of racial violence in American history.
We can rebuild a version of Black Wall Street that cannot be burned down. A community that builds and grows wealth in the same self-determinative manner. A safe and resilient community of growth, knowledge, empowerment, and prosperity that is by us and for us. The powerful analogy here is that when O.W. Gurley and others founded the Greenwood District, they essentially helped to create a decentralized network of Black ownership and empowerment. We can build a digital version of the same by creating and using blockchain and decentralized technology platforms. The power of blockchain is that it cannot be looted, burned down, bombed, or destroyed. It is immutable and permanent—just like we as Black Americans. I truly believe that the best way to honor our ancestors who fought and died for future generations is to create a future that uses state-of-the-art technology, inspired by their spirit of “as each other wins, we all win.” We need to work together. We need to support one another, and fundamentally be reminded that we cannot have social justice without economic justice.