Have you ever heard of Black Wall Street?
I did not learn about Black Wall Street during my twelve-year tenure as a Memphis City School student. So here are a few fun facts. In 1921, Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Greenwood District, known as Black Wall Street, was one of the wealthiest African-American communities in the United States. The dollar circulated 36 to 100 times in this tight-knit community, according to sfbayview.com. The creation of this powerful black community was intentional. “In 1906, O.W. Gurley, a wealthy African-American from Arkansas, moved to Tulsa and purchased over 40 acres of land that he made sure was only sold to other African-Americans,” writes Christina Montford in the Atlanta Black Star. As a result of segregation, a “dollar circulated 36 to 100 times” and remained in Greenwood “almost a year before leaving.” Even more impressive, at that time, the “state of Oklahoma had only two airports,” yet “six black families owned their own planes.” Unfortunately, the iconic district was burned to the ground by an angry white mob leaving 300 people dead and 800 injured. Black Wall Street almost seems fictional, but what if Memphis looked like the Greenwood district?
Most Memphians do not realize that Memphis is one of America’s largest majority-black cities. According to the United States Census Bureau, 64.2% of Memphis’ 651,073 residents identify a black or African American. But in stark contrast to the success of Black Wall Street, our iconic city is riddled with black poverty. “Poverty in Memphis has increased markedly for all ages and for non-Hispanic Blacks as a whole, while decreasing for non-Hispanic Whites and for Latinos. The City of Memphis poverty rate for non-Hispanic Blacks is 33.8% returning to the same high level seen in 2016”. With these numbers in mind, consumers and local corporations intentionally supporting black-owned businesses is just one small way that we can do to help lower the poverty gap in our community.
Although Memphis is a far stretch from the glory of Black Wall Street, there are a couple of streets that are giving us Black Wall Street vibes.
Elvis Presley Boulevard
Located in the historic Whitehaven Community, we have Elvis Presley Boulevard. The street is most known for being home to America’s 2nd most visited home, but it is also home to several black-owned businesses.
Elvis Presley Boulevard is home to one of the only Black-owned banks in the country – Tri-State Bank. Founded in 1946 by the late Dr. J. E. Walker, and his son, the late A. Maceo Walker, Tri-State Bank has been an instrumental hub for financial growth within the black community. In a season of health and wealth, Electrolyfe Juice Bar is the place to be. If your loved one has transitioned, you could receive the best funeral support from M J Edwards Funeral Home.
Calling all cigar enthusiasts and novice, Beleaf Cigars is located at 4593 Elvis Presley Blvd. Egg King Cafe is a breakfast spot that offers a full homestyle breakfast every morning, Pollard’s BBQ is basically the home of pulled pork and football. Elvis Presley Blvd is also the unofficial home of the hot wings with Dbo’s, BJs, and Best Wings, all nearby. These businesses are staples in this community and create the beautiful and well-rounded culture of Whitehaven.
Madison Ave is another street in Memphis that is currently giving us Black Wall Street vibes. Particularly in the medical district area, you can find a host of various services offered by black businesses.
Spikner is a community staple; they provide promotional product distributor services, including printing promotional items. Located just next door, Phillip Ashley is the new kid on the block. Phillip Ashley, a world-renowned chocolatier, recently opened the shop at 1200 Madison Ave, offering specialized, custom, and award-winning chocolates. Down the street, you will find a black-owned pizza shop called Slice of Soul Pizza. The storefront in the same block that simply says, “Modern Shoe Repair & Shoe Shine Parlor,” yeah, that is black-owned too.
Madison Ave, Memphis is starting to look alot like Madison Ave, New York with the growing number of Mad Men and Women. It’s the home to three black-owned marketing agencies, Three(i) Creative Communications, The Carter Malone Group, and Redmond Design Service LLC.
We have a long way to develop the infrastructure in our city to see the real fruits of a modern-day Black Wall Street. But with a little bit of intentionality and a whole bunch of community support, these two streets are well on their way to becoming a thriving oasis for black entrepreneurship.