19 April, 2005
The Tulsa race riot of 1921 is one of the saddest scars in America’s modern history. The year saw the burning down of the Greenwood neighbourhood of the city – which falls in the Oklahoma state – by the invading White crowd. Around 300 people, mostly Blacks, had died, and hundreds were injured in the incident. Thousands were rendered homeless.
From the evening of May 31 to the afternoon of June 1, 1921, the city witnessed the ugliest civilian killings after the American Civil War. It was worse than the 1965 Watts riot, the 1967 Detroit riot, the 1992 Los Angeles riot and the 1995 Oklahoma city bombing.
The killings apart, the riot was aimed a crippling the rising economic power of the Blacks. The crowd brought down around 1,500 African American homes, destroyed more than 600 businesses, including 21 restaurants, 30 stores, two movie theatres, a hospital, a bank, libraries, schools and the local post office.
In the American history, Tulsa is known as the “Black Wall Street”. In less than two days, the Black Wall Street had turned into volcanic ash. Blacks’ dream of creating their own bourgeoisie had died a dream.
On May 30, 1921, a rumour spread in the White locality of the town that Dick Rowland, a Black youth, had assaulted a 17-year-old White girl Sarah Page who worked as a lift operator. As Rowland was arrested, tension began building in the area. As if the Whites were waiting waited for this opportunity. The “Black Wall Street” had to be destroyed.
Rising from ashes of 1921, the Blacks are flying high in 2005. The American magazine Fortune ran a story in June, 2004, titled The New Black Power On the Wall Street. The story talked of Black brokers calling the shots at the Wall Street, and how a number of Blacks are doing exceptionally well in financial institutions.
As of today, there are three well-known Black billionaires – Robert Johnson, Oprah Winfrey and Shiela Crump Johnson.
About half a dozen Blacks are about to join that club. There are around a million Black-owned companies, with an annual turnover of $71.2 billion. The spending power of the Blacks has reached $572 billion, equivalents to the 11th largest economy in the world.
The Blacks have made their mark in the banking sector as well. There are 25 Black-owned banks with assets worth $4716 million, 10 investments banks with assets worth $677.3 million, 10 equity firms with assets worth $2959 million and five insurance companies with assets worth $472.48 million.
Companies owned by the Blacks might look tiny when compared to those owned by the Whites, but the fact is that the Blacks have made their presence felt in every sphere of the economy.
Compared to the American Blacks, the Dalits have nothing but small grocery shops or manufacturing units here and there which don’t find any mention even in the community’s media.
The history is replete with instances of the community leadership committing mistakes. Mistakes sometime become so grave that they pre-destine fortunes of the communities they represent.
The post-Ambedkar Dalit has committed a major blunder in understanding Dr Ambedkar. Baba Saheb’s resignation from Pt Nehru’s Cabinet on October 10, 1951, is a case in point. One of the reasons for his resignation was that he was not given the charge of the Planing Commission. He makes a pointed presentation when he argues that “I was primarily a student of Economics and Finance”. Needless to add, in the post-independence period, he wanted to usher in an era of economic emancipation of the Dalits. He was doubly betrayed, first by Pt Nehru and latter by his followers. The agenda of economic emancipation has withered away from post-Ambedkar Dalit movements.
In sharp contrast, the Black movement kept its focus on the economic question. Black teacher and reformer Booker T Washington had established the “National Negro Business League” in 1900. The Carver Federal Savings Bank, with assets worth $529.5 million, was established on November 5, 1948. It was the first Black-owned bank and it’s there even today. The Dalits are nowhere near those kinds of landmarks.
Unfortunately, Dalit movements attach little or no importance to the economic question, particularly when individuals, communities and nations are fighting for their share in the market. It is altogether a different issue that most Dalit movements split on the question of “financial irregularities”. Can the community do something concrete so that an Indian newspaper titles its story as New Dalit Power on Dalal Street?