Monday, May 31, 2021

After the Massacre: Black Property Owners Leveraged Land to Bring Businesses Back

I don't think I've ever read so much about the Tulsa race massacre. Leftist media folks didn't seem to care so much about Tulsa before the 100th anniversary. Didn't see nothin' about it on the 75th anniversary, or the 80th or 90th. That's not usually how these things work when remember big, important historical events. But it's all race all the time now, so perhaps diabolical race-baiters are making up for lost time.

That said, this is good, at WSJ, "Black Land Ownership Primed Greenwood’s Rebound After Massacre":

TULSA, Okla.—After all the destruction and loss of life, what survived the 1921 attack in the Greenwood district proved the most valuable and enduring in the neighborhood’s midcentury recovery: the ambition of Black entrepreneurs and landowners.

The ability of property owners to raise money by leveraging the land beneath the rubble helped seed a local economy of Black-owned businesses for the next decades, according to interviews, court filings, newspaper articles and an analysis of Tulsa County real-estate records by The Wall Street Journal.

Rebuilding Greenwood after the massacre had seemed a long shot. There was little or no government assistance. Insurers largely denied claims from people who had lost their homes and didn’t compensate business owners for lost inventory. Many residents instead used their property as collateral to secure short-term mortgages from financial institutions, more affluent individuals and community lending pools, records show.

The loans helped the neighborhood flourish in the 1940s and 1950s, residents and historians said. In 1940, the homeownership rate among Black residents in Tulsa was 49%, surpassing the rate of 45% among white residents, U.S. Census data show. In those decades, grocery stores lined the commercial spine of North Greenwood Avenue, and the district featured chili parlors, movie theaters, barbecue restaurants, drugstores, pool halls and doctors’ offices. By 1942, Greenwood was home to more than 240 businesses, according to Hannibal B. Johnson’s “Black Wall Street: From Riot to Renaissance in Tulsa’s Greenwood District.”

“All the odds were against us, and we survived anyway,” said James O. Goodwin, publisher of the Oklahoma Eagle, Greenwood’s century-old Black newspaper. Yet, this second renaissance would, too, meet its own calamity.

The story of Black property ownership in Oklahoma began well before the 1921 massacre. Many of the territory’s early Black residents were descendants of those formerly enslaved by Native Americans who had been pushed west by the U.S. government in the 19th century, according to Larry O’Dell, director of development and special projects at the Oklahoma Historical Society. In later agreements with the U.S., these Native Americans and the more than 23,000 formerly enslaved Black men and women of the tribes—known as freedmen—became eligible for allotments of as much as 160 acres in Oklahoma, Mr. O’Dell said. Many formed all-black towns in Oklahoma, largely in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

The opportunity to own land drew Black migrants from other states to Tulsa. Many found work as skilled laborers and in service jobs in an economy buoyed by agriculture and, later, the oil industry. Some who settled in Greenwood started businesses and bought property.

P.S. Thompson was among the Greenwood residents who mortgaged property to rebuild after the massacre. He filed a claim against the city for failing to protect his house and drugstore from destruction, fires and looting, according to documents with the Tulsa Historical Society & Museum and research compiled by the Oklahoma Historical Society. The following year, Mr. Thompson and his wife, E.B. Thompson, used their property as collateral to obtain a $750 loan from L.S. Cogswell Lumber Co., about $12,000 when adjusted for inflation. The loan was for 15 months at an annual interest rate of 10%, according to records from the Tulsa County Clerk. The average U.S. mortgage rate was around 6% at the time. The couple paid off the loan and obtained several more short-term mortgages in amounts from $500 to $1,500.

Well-to-do Greenwood residents made loans to other members of the community. In the 1920s and 1930s, James Henri Goodwin, a businessman and real-estate investor, extended mortgage loans to local residents, according to county clerk documents, and borrowed himself. Some Greenwood property owners were able to borrow from savings-and-loan associations.

Restrictive real-estate covenants limited the mobility of Black residents and property owners beyond Greenwood’s boundaries. Private-lending practices, common across the U.S., rated the presence of Blacks in a neighborhood as an elevated property risk, historians said, and blocked many Black home buyers from getting mortgages.

By 1958, the proportion of white home buyers had grown dramatically. Black residents made up 10% of Tulsa’s population but only 3% of buyers of new housing in the city, according to a Tulsa Urban League report issued that year.

Even with new homes being built, very few Black buyers could qualify for financing, according to the report, provided by the University of Tulsa’s Department of Special Collections. The passage of civil-rights legislation in the 1960s began to open up opportunities for some residents to move out of Greenwood amid efforts to desegregate communities, a move that cut into business owners’ clientele...

Still more.