This is the week to get reacquainted with Black Wall Street, that section of Tulsa, Oklahoma destroyed in 1921, one-hundred years ago. Whenever stories like this emerge, there’s usually new information uncovered and different perspectives shared. 

I read an article in the Washington Post focused on the whereabouts of the white young lady and the black young man who seemed to have a chance encounter alone in an elevator that got him arrested and sparked the town’s outrage ending in the destructed of Black Wall Street. The charges were dropped on him and she confessed that whatever it was that got folks angry never occurred on the elevator, yet, they both escaped Tulsa and no one’s sure where they ended up according the Washington Post. 

What caught my attention in the article was a quote from the Oklahoma Commission to Study the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 who reported…

“As the whites moved north, they set fire to practically every building in the African American community, including a dozen churches, five hotels, 31 restaurants, four drug stores, eight doctor’s offices, more than two dozen grocery stores, and the Black public library,”

Lets’ assume that passage is correct and the buildings they described above is practically every building in the community. With that being the case, how far away is Chester from becoming a Black Wall Street, too?

Chester currently has over a dozen churches; 3 not 5 hotels; probably close to 31 restaurants if you count take-out joints, chicken joints, Chinese restaurants, sandwich shops, the eateries at Harrah’s, and the great bar food scattered around the city; 2 not 4 drug stores (recently 3); and maybe more than 8 doctor’s offices if you count private practice, clinics, and specialists (not counting those at Crozer hospital). Chester doesn’t have close to 24 grocery stores – but how do you define a grocery store? It would be hard to believe that a 35-sqaure block area in Tulsa had 24 supermarkets like a Giant or Shop Rite. A large grocery store is more like a Sam & Sam or Cousins who primarily sell food and groceries and don’t fill shelves with birthday cards, wine and every variation of powder and liquid Tide. A small grocery store could just be a corner store that sells a small selection of fresh meats, fruits, vegetables, bread, dairy, and can goods. 

What is a Black public library? Is it like Chester’s J. Lewis Crozer library that sits in a black community, or is it a library only stocked with black books, magazines, newspapers, and literature? Of course, Tulsa’s Black Wall Street had other retail shops, beauty and barber shops, entertainment venues, and more. What made that section of Tulsa a Black Wall Street was the fact that in that segregated community, black folks owned most, if not all, the businesses.

How far is Chester from becoming a Black Wall Street, too? Chester is larger than the 35-square block segregated community reserved for Tulsa’s black folks. Chester is already mostly black so there’s no requirement to relegate the black folks to a segregated section of the city. It has many of the things the Oklahoma Commission says Tulsa had. I can’t help but to keep asking myself, ‘What exactly does Chester need in order to be considered a Black Wall Street and can it ever get there?’ Here’s a few thoughts…

  • Chester’s black residents would have to own a lot more of the real estate and empty lots than they currently do. Most residents are renters or in public housing. Much of the housing stock is aging out and will have to be repaired, renovated, or replaced by the time the next generation comes along. 
  • Chester’s black residents would have to own, operate, and be employed by the majority of businesses in the city.
  • The preponderance of low income housing would have to stop and be augmented by high income luxury units to attract affluent blacks to the city. Higher income residents won’t tolerate failing schools and a bankrupt government, so expect the new higher income black migrants to have the desire and resources to correct both situations. 
  • Chester would have to clear out the polluting industries and replace the income they generate with quality waterfront development that attracts tourists from across the region. 
  • Eds and Meds (Widener University and Crozer Hospital) will have to step up to bring a world class contribution to Chester in their respective areas of expertise. 

Chester has all the elements to become a real Black Wall Street if there’s some vision, planning, and cooperation. Or, it can continue to be another poor, neglected wasteland of opportunity that only profits the pimps of poverty.

Which Chester would you rather live in?