Recycling Black Wealth in the Inner City

The modern story of developed areas is a move from the inner city to the suburbs. This decentralization of metropolitan areas has left urban areas neglected. Such a transformation has had negative consequences, because it has inherently meant the abandonment of those left behind in urban centers.

Furthermore, the issue is complicated by the fact that the distinction between those moving to the suburbs and those left behind has been defined largely by race. As Kain notes,

"the means by which racial segregation in housing has been maintained are amply documented. They are both legal and extra-legal; for example: racial covenants; racial zoning; violence or threats of violence; preemptive purchase; various petty harassment; implicit or explicit collusion by realtors, banks, mortgage lenders, and other lending agencies; and, in the not-so-distant past, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and other Federal agencies" (Kain, pp289).

A major issue exists in that not only is economic activity shifting from urban areas to suburbia, but minorities are being systematically left behind and delegated to the neglected inner cities.

The repercussions of the increasing suburbanization go beyond merely restricted access to choice housing for minorities. Just as important as the housing market shift have been the movements of prime job markets and choice schooling to the suburbs.

The combined loss of these three elements (housing, jobs, and schooling) has ensured a comprehensive disadvantage for minorities left in the inner city. Especially with regard to the black community, the result has been concentrated urban areas of black Americans living in regions of economic stagnation.

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A major task then in reducing inequality in America is the challenge of reducing the systematic prejudice directed towards urban black communities.

There must be efforts to counteract the movement towards the suburbs, and programs aimed at rebuilding the inner city. Ideally, the end result might be transforming the inner city black ghettos into thriving black business districts through investing and directing resources back towards urban centers.

In terms of considering the potential for rebuilding the inner city and creating a thriving district of concentrated black Americans, it is important to note that such an ideal is not as unprecedented as one might be led to believe.

A history of concentrations of Black economic activity would be incomplete without mention of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and the once thriving African American business district that existed there.

In the early part of the 20th century, northern Tulsa was home to a 36-block district dubbed Black Wall Street and while it was not actually a center for financial trading it was a prospering business center. Tulsa was home to Black physicians, attorneys, and scholars.

One doctor, for example, Dr. Berry, owned the bus system and was known to make incomes of $500 a day. Unfortunately, the success of Tulsa came to a dramatic halt when the aftermath of a race riot concluded with the area even being bombed from the air by the National Guard.

A second "Black Wall Street" district arose in Durham, North Carolina by the 1930"s. This business district was founded on certain notable companies like North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company and Mechanics & Farmers Bank. These industries allowed other businesses to establish a foothold in the area, and it became a haven for middle class blacks.

Eventually, the significance of this "Black Wall Street" declined following North Carolina Mutual"s moving out of the district. And relocation ended the era.

The examples in Tulsa and Durham are significant for several reasons. First, they prove that areas with high concentrations of black Americans have great business potential, and that if this were possible in the tense racial environment in 1920"s America, then today we should at least be able to create something similar.

These examples also suggest the importance of financial institutions to the foundation of successful districts. Financial services are essential to the successful workings of a thriving business center, and any endeavors to re-create a Tulsa or Durham will have to emulate their example in establishing prominent banks.

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