Exactly 100 years ago, the thriving economic metropolis Black Wall Street was violently erased in what is known today as the Tulsa Race Massacre. Prior to its destruction at the hands of angry white mobs, the 35 block district boasted nearly 200 black-owned businesses, from grocery stores to banks, hotels, and movie theaters. The rare ability to build wealth was a reality for blacks in the area, buying land in their names, operating businesses, and circulating commerce solely within the community. Following the massacre, businesses weren’t able to recover, negatively impacting the descendants of the business owners, robbing them of generational wealth.
“What Black Wall Street was able to do was to create an ecosystem that fed customers to these businesses, and they were successful,” said Tiffany McGhee, founder of institutional investment advisory firm Pivotal Advisors LLC. “And when you destroy those businesses…then that ends the wealth.”
Today, the area known as Black Wall Street is diminished to a few blocks, with about 30 small businesses. The detriment of the decades past tragedy affects descendants today, as they reflect on the generational hardships that resulted from the massacre. Zulu lounge, a once thriving venue never recovered following the massacre, and was replaced with the Martin Luther King expressway that runs directly where the lounge stood.
“A freeway stands on top of my possible inheritance,” said J. Kavin Ross, great grandson of Isaac Evitt . “Who is to say what Isaac Evitt’s Zulu Lounge would be today if it hadn’t been for a so-called riot.”
Ross’s great grandfather was forced to sell his family’s land after the lounge was destroyed, unable to rebuild because white shop owners refused to sell him building materials. Growing up witness to the repercussions of the massacre inpsired Mr. Ross’s father, former Oklahoma state Rep. Don Ross, to advocate for the formation of the Tulsa Race Riot Commission to study the massacre and helped create the Greenwood Cultural Center, below.
John W. Rogers Jr. , founder of investment company Ariel Investments LLC, is the great-grandson of J.B. Stradford, above, who owned Greenwood’s Stradford Hotel. The multi-story luxury hotel burned down and is among the businesses that were never rebuilt post massacre. Before the hotel was targeted by hatred and racism, the 54 suite Stradford hotel was the gem of J.B.’s real estate empire, which consisted of two dozen real estate properties in Tulsa.
Adding insult to injury, J.B. Stradford was jailed and charged with inciting the massacre. Somehow, J.B. was able to escape to Chicago and forge another life but struggled with the adjustment from the transition as a successful Tulsa business owner to suffering Chicago attorney and businessman.
The legacy of the Stradford empire was kept alive by J.B.’s daughter, Jewel Stradford who became the first Black woman to graduate from The University of Chicago Law School and the first Black woman to argue a case before the Supreme Court, among other achievements.
Jewel’s son was inspired by his grandfather, making history in 1983 as the first Black founder of an asset management firm focusing on a more diverse and inclusive corporate environment, holding $16.2 billion in assets.
“I did not inherit wealth, but I inherited an education and early exposure to finance, which inspired my career path,” Mr. Rogers said.
While the Tulsa Massacre undoubtedly hindered the residents of Tulsa’s progress, the strength and tenacity of their ancestors run through the modern-day descendant’s veins propelling them to succeed. Being robbed of generational wealth did not halt modern-day Black Tulsans from transcendence, as many were able to succeed in fields like law, education, and finance, with a focus on investing in the community.