DETROIT, Mich. — One hundred years ago, an angry white mob in Tulsa, Okla., burned the nation’s wealthiest black business district to the ground. It was an area known as Black Wall Street. Hundreds of people were killed, and thousands lost their homes.
“The money and wealth that was lost, there were people there who were millionaires who died broke, never recaptured,” said Rev. Horace Sheffield, Chairman of Restore Black Wall Street Project. “They estimated over $2.5 million lost in that year, is probably $200 million now.”
In Detroit, Rev. Sheffield of New Destiny Christian Fellowship Church is working to raise money to restore historic buildings, teach history, and support Black entrepreneurship.
Hill Harper, who stars on ABC's "The Good Doctor" and owns Detroit’s Roasting Plant Coffee, is a co-chair on the Restore Black Wall Street Project. He met with two survivors in Tulsa on the weekend of the centennial.
“People who were 100-plus years old, who if that had never happened, they would have grown up with such prosperity, but they didn’t,” Harper said.
Harper announced that he's committing $1 million to survivors and descendants of the Tulsa Race Massacre from money made from his financial platform, The Black Wall Street app, which launches June 1. He says he aims to use the platform to increase financial literacy and access to opportunity.
“If we don’t remember and talk about history, we lose sight of how we got to where we are," Harper said. "In 1863, when the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, Black people in America owned a little under 1% of American wealth. Today, May 31, 2021, the centennial of the Tulsa Race Massacre, Black people in America own a little less than 1% of American Wealth."
The men with ties to Detroit see a parallel between Detroit’s history and what happened in Tulsa. While Detroit did not suffer a massacre, it did experience what they see as an attack on Black wealth. In 1959, Paradise Valley, a community where hundreds of Black businesses were destroyed to construct I-375.
“All of that was deliberately, deliberately undermined and destroyed,” Rev. Sheffield said.
Black entrepreneurs lost nightclubs, restaurants, grocery stores, casinos, hospitals, and offices. Sheffield says his family lost a business.
“My uncle, when I was a child, had a business on Hastings," he said. "So, I thought if we could go to a historical site like Tulsa, the most historical, then maybe we could gain momentum for doing the same kind of thing in Detroit."
Sheffield wants to see investments made to build up black business districts.
“And we can replicate that in the city after city,” Harper said. “Detroit has some of the best people in the world. Great young entrepreneurs. Great young minds. It is not the fact that they don’t have ideals. They don’t have the capital. That is why a digital wallet is so important, because eventually, on this platform, we will do micro-loans and peer-to-peer loans, so we don’t have to ask other people for help. We can help ourselves.”
Kim Russell at WXYZ first reported this story.