Black Wealth Gone By 2053

By Barney Blakeney

Lately, I’ve been focused on the future. I keep asking myself where our society is headed.

I recently participated in a survey where the interviewer me asked what I’d see about our community if I was clairvoyant. That was a tough question. There are so many possibilities.

Then I read an op-ed piece by Charlene Crowell, Communications Deputy Director at the Center for Responsible Lending. She said amid national boasts of a robust economy, Black wealth in America continues to plummet and that one estimate is Black wealth will be a wiped out by 2053.

After you get past those who find some false sense of security when considering their personal financial positions, I found that thought distressing.

Maybe it’s just me, but I’m bothered to think that the wealth Black people sacrificed to build over the past 400 years could be wipe out in another generation. It’s not really that hard to imagine when you think about it. Black folks have lost tremendous wealth in the past 150 years since the Civil War. A 2017 story by Leah Douglas published in The Nation said in the 45 years following the Civil War, freed slaves and their descendants accumulated roughly 15 million acres of land across the United States, most of it in the South.

Douglas wrote, “Land ownership meant stability and opportunity for black families, a shot at upward mobility and economic security for future generations. The hard-won property was generally used for farming, the primary occupation of most Southern blacks in the early 20th century. By 1920, there were 925,000 black-owned farms. Over the course of the 20th century, however, that number dropped. By 1975, just 45,000 black-owned farms remained.”

Perhaps more obvious is the loss of Black wealth right here in our local community. As a kid growing up in Charleston and North Charleston during the 1950s and 1960s, almost everyone I did business with on a daily basis were Black folks. Even out in Kingstree, the neighborhood convenience stores were owned by Black folks. My mom’s cousin owned the neighborhood gas station.

As a teenager I got my band uniform cleaned at Sinbad’s Cleaners on Morris Street. Ernie Kinloch bought out Keith’s Restaurant on Spring Street and made a mark for having the best lima beans and rice in the region! In the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial District, once a hub of Black business, there were lawyers’ and doctors’ offices, hat shops and shoe repair shops, barbers and bootleggers. All of that’s been wiped out in my lifetime. Today only a handful of Black-owned businesses continue to exist there. Wish it were that they simply have relocated, but they no longer exist.

There are a lot of reasons for that extinction. Crowell said government discrimination in Social Security and federal housing initiatives have disenfranchised Blacks folks. Throw in discrimination in banking and lending and the causes for the dissipation of Black wealth is easily traceable.

But you can’t blame everything on the white man. Show a Negro $2 and he’ll sell you his mama’s rice bed. We don’t value what those folks sacrificed to obtain and maintain. We lost a lot of businesses because successive generations got comfortable in a false sense of security. Some of us think we have arrived!

Our forebears realized even with the freedom that came after the Civil War, they had not arrived, that there still was work to do, and that they had to continue to build wealth. Those folks used the meager wages they earned cleaning houses, cooking in Miss Ann’s kitchen and driving Miss Daisy to buy homes and send all 10 of them bad behind children to college. They had a vision that wasn’t distorted by the idea that just because they had acquired more than their parents who once were slaves, they had arrived.

While watching Carolina Business Review on the PBS channel Sunday, guest Nido Qubein, president of High Point University in North Carolina said you need a clear vision to develop a strategy. Recently I asked several people what is the vision for Black economic inclusion as the International African American Museum comes on line in the next few years. I haven’t really heard about any vision for inclusion, much less any development of strategies to realize such a vision. What I have heard is a lot of woulda, coulda, shoulda.

Charleston County School District spent a reported $135,000 for a recently released disparities study that tells us a lotta stuff we already know – that schools are racially segregated and that most black students get the lowest quality education. Heck, the College of Charleston’s Avery Research Center’s racial disparities study released last year told us the same thing. Seems to me these folks are making a lot of money doing studies. I wish one of them studies would explain to me why Black folks expect the slave master to give slaves the tools to free themselves.

I heard something: enjoy today, live for tomorrow. I think if Black folks are to preserve the wealth we have left, we must begin to live for tomorrow. Our parents didn’t squander their wealth. They strategized to build more wealth.

We may get an apology for slavery, but we’ll never get a return on the investment our parents made to create the wealth that came from slavery unless we develop and implement strategies that change the vision that wipes out Black wealth by 2053.

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