Leaders with ties to Detroit aim to help rebuild Black Wall Street in Tulsa

Posted at 6:38 PM, May 31, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-01 22:29:20-04

DETROIT, Michigan (WXYZ) — One hundred years ago an angry white mob burned the nation’s wealthiest black business district to the ground in Tulsa, Oklahoma. 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.”

Rev. Sheffield, of New Destiny Christian Fellowship Church in Detroit, is working to raise money to restore historic buildings, teach the 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 Black Wall Street 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 Black Wall Street 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 for the construction of 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 historic site like Tulsa, the most historic, 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 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 just don’t have the capital. That is why digital wallet is so important, because eventually on this platform we are going to do micro-loans and peer-to-peer loans so we don’t have to ask other people for help. We can help ourselves.”