Report Finds Tulsa Race Massacre Has National Impact on Black Wealth 100 Years Later

The National Bureau of Economic Research says fewer Blacks have owned homes or large assets.

The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre destroyed one of the nation’s most prosperous and self-sufficient Black communities, popularly known as “Black Wall Street.” But a study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, the fallout from the racist campaign of terror that murdered hundreds and pushed thousands of Black people into prison camps is still felt by Black Americans today.

Business Insider reports the massacre had a profound and chilling impact around the country. Researchers Alex Albright, Jeremy Cook, James Feigenbaum, Laura Kincaide, Jason Long, and Nathan Nunn’s paper, published in July, wrote that for Blacks in America, the massacre served to be "a warning about the potential destruction of wealth." The fear that appearing too prosperous led Blacks to be less inclined toward home ownership and increased the tendency to invest in other assets. The same trends were seen in communities that matched Tulsa's high levels of racial segregation.

The Tulsa Massacre was the most devastating incident of racial violence against Black people in American history. It demolished the community causing nearly $50 million in losses. Jealous white residents of Tulsa ran riot in the community and murdered 300 people, looting and burning churches, hospitals, businesses and more than 1500 private homes, all because of a rumor that swept the town accusing a young Black man of sexually assaulting a young white woman. Whites, sanctioned by local law enforcement, burned and destroyed the entire Greenwood community, and the true losses are immeasurable.  

The news of the day signaled a positive spin on what was later to be found an act of racial terrorrism. Newspapers were largely supportive of the attacks, which lasted for a two day period in from May 31 to June 1, 1921, according to Business Insider, and cast blame on the Black residents for the violence.

In areas where news consumers read positive coverage of the attacks, Blacks were less likely to invest their money in homeownership and other appreciable assets that would build Black wealth.

“Examining effects after 1940, we find that the direct negative effects of the massacre on the home ownership of Black Tulsans, as well as the spillover effects working through newspaper coverage, persist and actually widen in the second half of the 20th Century,” according to the study.

As the researchers extended their analysis to include 1980, 1990, and 2000, the direct effects of the massacre compounded. They found a larger negative effect on Black homeownership in Tulsa and the surrounding area. And the role of that initial newspaper coverage also had a measurable effect 100 years later.  Neighborhoods exposed to positive coverage of the massacre saw diminished rates of Black homeownership and wealth.

PHOTO GALLERY: ​​The 1921 Tulsa Race Masscre -- Images of a Community In Terror
RELATED: ​​The Tulsa Race Massacre 100 Years Later: Why Descendants Are Demanding Reparations For The Racial Terrorism Their Ancestors Faced
RELATED: Tulsa Searches for Victims of the 1921 Race Massacre in Cemetary

The researchers write, "At the time, the massacre was the largest single episode of property destruction experienced by a Black community. It provided a warning of the danger of the accumulation of wealth through homeownership. In an instant, one's home and possessions could be destroyed."

But the researchers also say they discovered that the effect of segregation, like that of neighborhoods in Tulsa did not persist, but that could be explained by trends in individual counties. Some counties, they said could still suffer from the same segregation trends while others might not.

Latest News

Subscribe for BET Updates

Provide your email address to receive our newsletter.

By clicking Subscribe, you confirm that you have read and agree to our Terms of Use and acknowledge our Privacy Policy. You also agree to receive marketing communications, updates, special offers (including partner offers) and other information from BET and the Paramount family of companies. You understand that you can unsubscribe at any time.