Why Oklahoma Owes Black America $45 Billion

A memorial to Tulsa’s Black Wall Street sits outside the Greenwood Cultural Center on the outskirts of downtown Tulsa, Okla. Photo by Sue Ogrocki/AP/Shutterstock

One hundred years ago this week, one of the worst incidents of white violence in American history led to the death of as many as 300 Black people in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and an unfathomable amount of property destruction with intergenerational consequences.   White anger over the false accusation of a Black teenager led to a violent mob destroying over 35 blocks of the Greenwood neighborhood otherwise known as “Black Wall Street,” leaving thousands of people homeless and numerous businesses destroyed over an 18-hour period from May 31 to June 1 of 1921.

It’s estimated that $1.8M of economic damage was caused, as entire blocks were razed that contained Black businesses from law offices to cabarets. One might learn about this history and see it as a momentary tragedy. But this underestimates the full story, which was the destruction of massive intergenerational wealth and opportunity.

First, a dollar went much further back in those days—$1 in 1921 had the purchasing power of $149 in today’s dollars. This means that those $1.8M of damage, which we might otherwise perceive as tragic, but relatively small, was equivalent to $27M in today’s dollars. The median home price in Tulsa is $173,000, such that one can think of this as equivalent to the destruction of 156 homes today.

Second, these are assets that would’ve been passed down and re-invested. Its impossible to know how the Black community of Tulsa would’ve leveraged these assets over the past one hundred years, but to take a very simple measurement, lets imagine those $1.8M had been invested in the simplest way possible—sitting in the S&P 500 index. $1.8M invested in 1921 would be starting at an extreme low-point in the market given the depression of 1920-1921, that of course only got worse after the 1929 market crash and start of the Great Depression. And yet, by 2021, this $1.8M would’ve grown to $45B.

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SOURCE: Forbes, Morgan Simon

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