BLACK WALL STREET

THE 1ST BLACK WALL STREET

DURHAM — Around the turn of the century, the Bull City was a thriving center for African-American business activity.

In the late 1800s, three young visionaries started the first black-owned insurance company. North Carolina Mutual Life set up shop on West Parrish Street.

Charles Blackmon has worked for NC Mutual for nearly 40 years. He's an expert on the company's history, a history that goes back to a time when Durham's West Parrish Street was known nationwide as the "Black Wall Street."

Mechanics and Farmers Bank followed N.C. Mutual's lead. Before long, a core of businesses owned by African Americans thrived and prospered on Parrish Street.

Despite the segregation and discrimination faced by so many in the early 1900s, blacks in Durham enjoyed the highest per capita income, and the highest rate of home ownership, in the country.

For the first half of the 20th century, the area earned Durham the nickname "the Capital of the Black Middle Class."

Even though the street is no longer a nationally recognized financial center for the African-American community, many who work here today are well aware of its history and heritage.

Attorney Butch Williams runs a thriving law practice on Parrish Street. He says the founding fathers of the "Black Wall Street," who came here so many years before him, weren't bullish on just the Bull City.

Beginning in the late nineteenth century, states passed laws to keep the races separate and to restrict the opportunities of African Americans. The system created by these laws was known informally as “Jim Crow.” More than a million African Americans fled the Jim Crow South, especially, after World War I, seeking opportunity in northern cities.

In the early twentieth century, Parrish Street in Durham, North Carolina, was the hub of African American business activity. This four-block district was known as “Black Wall Street,” a reference to the district of New York City that is home to the New York Stock Exchange and the nation’s great financial firms. Although other cities had similar districts, Durham’s was one of the most vital, and was nationally known. Parrish Street bordered the Hayti community, Durham’s main African American residential district, and the two districts together served as the center of black life in Durham.

In 1906, the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company, the nation’s largest black-owned insurance company, moved its headquarters to Parrish Street. It was soon joined by the Mechanics and Farmers Bank, and the founder of North Carolina Mutual also invested in real estate and textiles. National leaders W. E. B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington both visited the city, in 1912 and 1910, respectively, and praised black entrepreneurship.

W. E. B. Du Bois, “The Upbuilding of Black Durham: The Success of the Negroes and their Value to a Tolerant and Helpful Southern City,” in World’s Work vol. 23 (Jan. 1912).

2CD BLACK WALL STREET

In the early 1900s, Tulsa, Oklahoma experienced a major oil boom, attracting thousands. Many African Americans migrated from southern states hoping to escape the harsh racial tensions while profiting off of the oil industry. Yet even in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Jim Crow laws were at large, causing the town to be vastly segregated with most African Americans settling in the northern section of the town. From that segregation grew a black entrepreneurial mecca that would affectionately be called “Black Wall Street”. The town was established in 1906 by entrepreneur O.W. Gurley, and by 1921 there were over 11,000 residents and hundreds of prosperous businesses, all owned and operated by black Tulsans and patronized by both whites and blacks.

One of the most prominent entrepreneurs was Lola T. Williams who owned The Dreamland Theatre and a small chain across Oklahoma. The theater seated close to 1,000 people for live musicals, films and more. This was only one of four theaters in the area. Not too far from Mrs. Williams’ theater was the Stradford Hotel on Greenwood Avenue. Owned by J.B. Stradford, it was one of the largest and most successful black-owned hotels at the time. Prior to opening the hotel, Stratford bought large tracts of land in Tulsa and sold them exclusively to blacks, subscribing to the belief that they had the best chance at economic success by pooling their resources and supporting one another’s businesses.

June 1st, 1921 will forever be remembered as a day of great loss and devastation. It was on this day that America experienced the deadliest race riot in the small town of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Ninety-four years later, that neighborhood is still recognized as one of the most prosperous African American towns to date. With hundreds of successful black-owned businesses lining Greenwood Avenue, it became a standard that African Americans are still trying to rebuild. The attack that took place in 1921 tore the community apart, claiming hundreds of lives and sending the once prosperous neighborhood up in smoke.

In the early 1900s, Tulsa, Oklahoma experienced a major oil boom, attracting thousands. Many African Americans migrated from southern states hoping to escape the harsh racial tensions while profiting off of the oil industry. Yet even in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Jim Crow laws were at large, causing the town to be vastly segregated with most African Americans settling in the northern section of the town. From that segregation grew a black entrepreneurial mecca that would affectionately be called “Black Wall Street”. The town was established in 1906 by entrepreneur O.W. Gurley, and by 1921 there were over 11,000 residents and hundreds of prosperous businesses, all owned and operated by black Tulsans and patronized by both whites and blacks.