The best way for us to live out dirt-bike fantasies as a child in Baltimore was to stick a bottle in between the back tire and the wheel well of our bikes. It makes a half ear ripping, half inspiring sound. Anytime during the 90’s you could’ve found droves of kids weaving through streets, perpetrating like this on peddle bikes, in one buzzing harmony. I was reminded of this sound when I covered the history of the Tulsa Race riots for the 40th time. White men, infused with gallons of hatred, saddled themselves in biplanes on Wednesday June 1st, 1921 and leveled an entire community of prospering blacks. Their engines hummed like the modified bikes of my childhood. Women carried the lifeless bodies of children and black men clenched hunting rifles fearing for their right to live. About halfway through the documentary, while the World War II issue aircrafts dropped firebombs from above what was known as Black Wall street, and again the planes echoed that same vibrating tone. Only this buzzing had a sinister pitch to it. No matter how many times I let the streaming clip buffer over and over again, it was no way I can submerge myself in the reality of that day, when a war was waged on the African Americans in that town. Bombs, grenades, and military grade rifles stormed upon Black Wall Street in 1921, and the idea of collective black progress altogether.
Ninety-four years have inched pass since we lost a symbol of economic salvation and in a city like Baltimore, a native of these thoroughfares and alleyways can only wonder what if. Is the city best known for heavily seasoned crabs and deafening homicides the sleeping reincarnation of Black Wall Street? I believe it deserves an analysis. Upwards of 600,000 people live in Birdtown. Not surprisingly, 65% of those city dwellers are black or African American, depending on how we want to use marginalizing language. Gentrification is taking its toll here, but the effects of divestment in Baltimore’s invisible neighborhoods are too much for any heavy-handed investor to kidnap all at once. So blocks upon blocks of storefronts, townhomes, and playgrounds sit unattended waiting for the next bulldozer. What we do have of economic development is sprawled out across the town between mom and pop eateries, car dealerships, and barbershops. Beyond these businesses a giant sleeps.
What lies behind the decaying facade of homes and buildings is the opportunity for African Americans to take hold of prosperity seldom found in America. I’m not here to tell you it’ll be easy. Publisher’s clearing house isn’t laying out any yellow bricked road. Political investors most likely will attempt to thwart even the idea of it.There won’t be any gold rush to the slums. And that all makes Baltimore another potential Mecca of Black prosperity. The densely populated neighborhoods and corner-store vibe should have any African American entrepreneurs licking their chops. Food deserts equal grocery stores. Malls that take three buses to get to, mean boutiques in walking distance. Abandoned warehouses are a manufacturing paradise. If you’ve learned the history of Tulsa, this landscape is oddly familiar. In 1921, Black Wall Street comprised 21 churches, 21 restaurants, 30 grocery stores and two movie theaters, plus a hospital, a bank, a post office, libraries, schools, law offices, a half dozen private airplanes and even a bus system. Today in Baltimore a dollar bill circulates the community for no more than an hour. On black wall street it sometimes took a year for cash to leave the hands of blacks.
This is no phenomena. It was a community birthed out of necessity. Segregation pushed blacks 80 years removed from slavery to the margins of society. Black Tulsa had no choice but to survive. And given a chance to survive for Black America means an undeniable renaissance. We now look upon a city who’s 90 years withdrawn from an act of terrorism that served as symbol of keeping negroes in their place, and we are again in the margins. Mass incarceration coupled with the war on drugs has left entire communities obliterated. But, it has also paved a way. Unlike our forefathers we know that the institutional lines drawn in the sand are a refuge for our culture, heritage and economic freedom. Nowhere else in America is more open for Black Business than Charm City. The people have already come, unfortunately they were brought here against their will hundreds of years ago. It is upon the great minds of our generation to build it.