Black Homeownership Is Still Being Affected By The Tulsa Race Massacre — And Not Just In Oklahoma

The fallout from the Tulsa Race Massacre is still hurting Black homeownership and wealth-building to this day, according to a National Bureau of Economic Research study.

The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre was one of the most violent incidents of racial violence in American history, causing an estimated $47 million in damages and the deaths of up to 300 African Americans. White residents in Tulsa looted and burned a 35-acre community of Black businesses including hotels, dentist and doctors offices, and banks.

Researchers Alex Albright, Jeremy Cook, James Feigenbaum, Laura Kincaide, Jason Long, and Nathan Nunn say the massacre served as “a warning about the potential destruction of wealth” that dragged Black homeownership and investment in other assets.

According to Business Insider, the massacre led to a significant drop in Black homeownership, which declined by 4.5% in Tulsa immediately after the massacre. The rate of Black Americans living in a home owned by a family member declined 6.3% and the number of Black blue-collar workers also declined.

The study also noted newspaper coverage of the massacre largely blamed Black Americans and Tulsa’s prosperity for it. The researchers said in areas exposed to such negative coverage of the massacre, Black Americans were less likely to invest in homes and other assets that push Americans into new socioeconomic areas.

“The most likely explanation for the spillover effects is that the massacre altered the beliefs and
expectations of Black people across the country,” the study states. “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. This could have certainly affected one’s decision of whether to accumulate wealth through housing stock. Our findings are consistent with this.”

The researchers also found when extending the analysis to include the 1980s, 90s, and 2000s, the effects of the massacre placed a bigger drag on Black homeownership in Tulsa and Oklahoma. The “newspaper spillover effect” also intensified and expanded, which led to drops in Black homeownership and wealth.

The Tulsa Race Massacre did significant and permanent harm to the wealth-building of Black Americans, which in turn has affected everything including education, healthcare, access to credit, and income.

In June it was announced the three known survivors of the Tulsa Race Massacre, Viola Fletcher, Hughes Van Elli, and Lesslie Benningfield Randle, would each receive a $100,000 gift from the Justice for Greenwood Foundation.