- The Tulsa Race Massacre destroyed “Black Wall Street,” and it’s still hurting Black Americans a century later.
- The attacks wiped out swaths of Black wealth and kept many from owning homes, researchers found.
- Many effects spilled over due to racist news coverage, and those effects worsened over time, the team added.
The Tulsa Race Massacre destroyed one of the US’s most prosperous Black neighborhoods a century ago. Its fallout is still felt by Black Americans across the country, according to a study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.
The Tulsa massacre in 1921 stands out as one of the most devastating incidents of racial violence in the history of the US. The attacks demolished the community then renowned as “Black Wall Street” and caused up to $US47 ($AU63) million in estimated losses. White residents of Tulsa looted and burned the 35-acre district, thousands of Black Americans were held in internment camps, and it’s estimated that some 300 people were killed.
Strides toward racial equity have been made in the century since the massacre, but the Tulsa attacks continue to weigh on America’s Black population. For many Black Americans, the massacre served as “a warning about the potential destruction of wealth,” researchers Alex Albright, Jeremy Cook, James Feigenbaum, Laura Kincaide, Jason Long, and Nathan Nunn said in the July paper. That dragged on homeownership and the tendency to invest in other assets. The same trends were seen in communities that matched Tulsa’s high levels of racial segregation, the team added.
All told, the homeownership rate for Black household heads in Tulsa fell by 4.5% immediately after the Massacre. The rate of Black Americans living in a home owned by a family member dove by 6.3%, and the share of Black white-collar workers fell by 2.3%.
Newspaper coverage of the massacre also led to negative effects outside of Oklahoma. Much of the contemporary coverage was supportive of the attacks, with many blaming Black Americans and Tulsa’s prosperity for the massacre. In areas exposed to such coverage, Black Americans were less likely to invest in homes and other appreciating assets that push households up the socioeconomic ladder, according to the study.
“At the time, the massacre was the largest single episode of property destruction experienced by a Black community,” the researchers said. “It provided a warning of the danger of the accumulation of wealth through homeownership. In an instant, one’s home and possessions could be destroyed.”
Further research suggests some of the negative effects didn’t fade, and instead got more intense over time.
The researchers found that, after extending the analysis to include 1980, 1990, and 2000, the direct effects of the massacre compounded, meaning they placed a bigger drag on Black homeownership in Tulsa and the surrounding area. The newspaper spillover effect also intensified, signaling neighborhoods exposed to positive coverage of the massacre saw lingering hits to Black homeownership and wealth.
However, the segregation effect – the one seen in neighborhoods with segregation like Tulsa – was “noticeably smaller in magnitude” and did not persist, according to the team. That diminished effect could be explained by individual counties’ segregation trends, they added. As such, certain counties could still suffer from the segregation effect while others don’t.
Even one century on, the Tulsa Race Massacre haunts Black Americans in Oklahoma and beyond. Whether in the form of direct wealth loss, racist newspaper coverage, or lingering segregation, the attacks did permanent harm to Black Americans’ wealth-building, according to the study.
“The massacre may have put Black Tulsans and some Black communities on a different trajectory, at least in terms of homeownership,” the team said.