We talk about Tulsa in our class on capitalism for urban youth. In the 1920’s, a part of Tulsa was called “The Negro Wall Street”, because of its accumulation of businesses and wealth. A Black man stepped on a White woman’s toes, she screamed and they arrested him and planned to hang him. A few Black Men tried to keep the lynching from happening, and seemed to be standing up for themselves. In response, White Tulsa residents essentially attacked Negro Wall Street, even going so far as to drop firebombs on it from the air. Hundreds of Black men and women were killed, and the Negro Wall Street was burned to the ground.
We talk about Tulsa not to make the students angry, but because it’s important that they understand the history of our country and how it might impact their actions. Historically African Americans, and particularly African American men, have been kept from participating in our capitalist economic system. Wealth is power, and capitalism is the means of accumulating wealth and thus power. We want the students to understand how this history might shape their actions – how this history might have worked its way into their brains, and make them doubt their ability to succeed in our capitalist system.