On Monday, the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity at Duke University presented the final installment of its research considering and documenting the modern racial wealth gap in six major U.S. cities. This time, the Center set their sights on Tulsa, Oklahoma–a city still reeling from the aftermath of the massacre that decimated the black community 100 years ago, an event known today as the Tulsa Massacre.
The latest report, “Oil and Blood: The Color of Wealth in Tulsa, Oklahoma,” details how this massacre–which is estimated to have killed 300 people and displaced nearly 10,000 more–destroyed the economic gains previously attained by blacks in Tulsa in the wake of the oil boom at the turn of the twentieth century. While Tulsa was once home to a thriving “Black Wall Street” in the Greenwood district, it now boasts the largest black-white wealth gap in the six cities the Center has studied.
“This speaks to the whole nation,” said Jorge Zumaeta, a Cook Center faculty affiliate and visiting professor and a senior research scientist at Florida International University, of the report’s findings. “It’s very important to carry the message and put it into perspective, so that we as humanity learn from these events.”
A PDF of the report, unveiled and discussed during a special series of presentations that also served as the capstone for the fall 2021 semester’s Global Inequality Research Initiative (GIRI), is available to be read on the Cook Center website here.
Like previous Cook Center studies that analyzed the economic gaps in Boston, Washington D.C., Miami, Los Angeles, and Baltimore, this report used the National Asset Scorecard for Communities of Color (NASCC) survey to document and understand the wealth and income gaps between different racial-ethnic groups in Tulsa.
Critically, the report finds that blacks, Hispanics, and Muscogee individuals have significantly lower levels of wealth than whites, with the black-white gap yawning the widest. The average white household in Tulsa has $232,560 in wealth, whereas the average black household has $19,033, 9% of that of their white peers.
Moreover, it concludes that the specific black-white wealth gap in Tulsa stems largely from differences in the rate of entrepreneurship and homeownership between the two groups. In other words, the 1921 Tulsa Massacre destroyed many businesses and homes in the predominantly black Greenwood district, and the effects of this violent attack are still being felt today.
“The estimate that I’ve seen that is most persuasive thus far, of the losses to the Black community in terms of property [of the Tulsa Massacre], is in the vicinity of $620 million in 2020 dollars,” said William A. Darity Jr., during the panel discussion that highlighted the report’s key findings.
Darity, the founding director of the Cook Center as well as the Samuel DuBois Cook Professor of Public Policy, African and African American Studies, and Economics at Duke University, was joined in the morning’s panel discussion by Zumaeta; Raffi E. García, a visiting faculty affiliate at the Cook Center and assistant professor of finance at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; and Lauren Russell, a research assistant at the Cook Center and Ph.D. candidate in public policy at Harvard University. Lindsay Foster Thomas, the content director at local NPR member station WUNC, moderated the discussion.
The full program, hosted at the Nasher Museum of Art and entitled “The Color of Wealth: Tulsa, A Century After the Massacre,” additionally highlighted student responses to the report’s publication, looking at the roles that Black women journalists played in documenting the Massacre and exploring the ways financial institutions might assist in remedying these wealth gaps moving forward.
This semester’s Global Inequality Research Initiative (GIRI), the research component of the Cook Center’s Inequality Studies Minor, featured prominently in the day’s proceedings as well. The fall seminar has focused on the Tulsa Massacre of 1921, specifically exploring the context in which it occurred and the lasting influence of the massacre on art, literature, research, and culture.
During the afternoon session Monday, undergraduate and graduate students presented preliminary findings from their research into thematically relevant topics, exploring ideas around the intersections of state violence, community values, white supremacy and racial hierarchies, and more–both in America and abroad.
“If you think back to the Tulsa race massacre, they were also in an environment that was not only perpetuating but also honestly encouraging white supremacy through this intensely racist rhetoric and these really excluding policies,” said Lori Babb, one of three presenters in a group sharing research regarding Anti-Asian attacks during the COVID-19 pandemic. “We’re living in something quite similar to that today.”
While the student researchers have roughly three more weeks to finalize their projects, Darity was effusive about their work so far. “The Global Inequality Research seminar is becoming a big hit,” said Darity in his concluding remarks. “And I think it’s because of you all. So thank you very, very much.”
“Oil and Blood: The Color of Wealth in Tulsa, Oklahoma” received funding support from the Ford Foundation.